'Vertical' fish farms in S'pore may be a reality soon

'Vertical' fish farms in S'pore may be a reality soon
The water-recycling system is attached to a circular tank, which holds around 8,000 litres of water, and 11 such tanks can fit into 10,000 sq ft of space (an area about the size of 81/2 HDB five-room flats).

You need four walls, a roof and a space several storeys high and voila! you're a fish farmer.

This could become a reality if a water-recycling system gets implemented here, which would remove the need for fish farms to be built at sea or at sea level.

Singapore's land scarcity means it has to get creative about its space constraints and this is where such "vertical fish farms" come in, said John Bahng, director of Ocean Ethix Singapore.

He told My Paper that his company, which markets such a system, is already in talks with two companies and another group of potential investors to bring the technology from Hong Kong to Singapore, possibly as early as this year.

The company is in the midst of drawing up proposals, and aims to approach the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) within the next three months.

Ocean Ethix's water-recycling system is attached to a circular tank, which holds around 8,000 litres of water, and 11 such tanks can fit into 10,000 sq ft of space (an area about the size of 81/2 HDB five-room flats), virtually almost anywhere.

"You basically just need four walls and a roof," said Mr Bahng.

"And with transportation costs being a factor for (fish) importers, this could also reduce the price fluctuations due to changes in fuel prices, for instance."

A facility of this size has already been installed in Hong Kong. It sells about two tonnes of groupers to fish wholesalers each week, getting about $126 per kg.

Here, a typical sea-based fish farm spanning 27,000 sq ft produces between five and seven tonnes of fish a year, said Philip Lim, chairman of the Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative.

Mr Bahng said the system could be the solution to mass fish deaths, much like what happened earlier this year at 34 fish farms here. Then, a plankton bloom and lack of oxygen resulted in a loss of some 160 tonnes of fish.

"Basically, you can take most or all of nature's effects out of the equation - weather, natural disasters, algae, diseases and so on," he said.

According to AVA, there are several land-based fish farms here, which have adopted similar systems. Swee Chioh Fishery uses one at its fish nurseries. The fish are later transferred to open-sea cages.

An AVA spokesman said the agency "encourages local fish farms to adopt such technologies as it allows the fish to be cultured in a more controlled environment".

AVA began a push in 2011 to make local supplies account for 15 per cent of total fish consumed here, but the figure is currently just 7 per cent.

Malcolm Ong, chief executive of The Fish Farmer, said that he welcomed any technology that could help optimise land use and also minimise the risk of disease, but was mindful of the costs involved.

Referring to the use of water-recycling systems, he said: "Definitely the cost of energy would be higher than in the sea, because the system would have to circulate and pump water 24/7. Hopefully, these (costs) can be offset by productivity gains."

samboh@sph.com.sg


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