AVA support for farmers hit by mass fish deaths

Fish farmers affected by the recent mass fish deaths do not have to worry about missing mandated productivity targets, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman, during a visit to coastal fish farms on Thursday.

Their losses will be considered when their production is counted, and they can turn the setback into a chance to improve their farms, said Dr Maliki, who met several farmers during his visit to two farms off Changi affected by mass die-offs.

In all, 34 farms in the eastern Johor Strait and five in the west Johor Strait have lost some 160 tonnes of fish so far. The die-offs were attributed to low levels of dissolved oxygen and a plankton bloom due to hot weather and neap tides, when high tides are at their lowest, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

While fish farms must produce 17 tonnes of fish per half hectare of farm space to keep their licences, Dr Maliki said "it's only fair that we tell the farmers it's okay, we look at how much losses you have suffered this time round, your productivity performance will be measured in line with the losses you have suffered".

The affected farms were also rearing fish more vulnerable to poor conditions, such as grouper, golden trevally and threadfin, he added. Singapore's farms produce about 6 per cent of the fish consumed here, the AVA said.

But fish in the market are safe to eat: the dead fish have all been disposed of properly, he said.

Dr Maliki, who is also South East District mayor, said the South East CDC would offer support to the families of affected Singaporean farmers and workers.

He said the authorities would also help fish farmers tap a $30 million AVA fund meant for boosting food production here, to improve aeration systems for example. But farmers must pay for equipment up front first, then submit receipts to get reimbursements.

Farmer Goh Joo Hiang, 60, who had lost up to $200,000 worth of fish, said the losses should also factor in next year's productivity targets. "Even if we bought two-inch fry now, it would take a year to raise them."

Meanwhile, the dry spell since mid-January has meant that more water has to be pumped into reservoirs.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday that water agency PUB has been running Singapore's desalination and Newater plants "at close to full capacity". The two desalination plants here can meet up to a quarter of Singapore's water needs, with a combined output of 100 million gallons per day (mgd).

caiwj@sph.com.sg


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