Chilli crab lovers may be able to enjoy the delicacy cooked with locally farmed crabs in future.
Seafood supplier Gills 'N' Claws Aquaculture is awaiting approval to do crab farming in a vertical farm in Neo Tiew Lane, specialising in Sri Lankan mud crabs. It will launch its premises, which now houses and fattens ready-to-sell crabs, tomorrow.
Owner Steven Suresh said rearing the crabs here could lower their wholesale price by at least 10 per cent eventually.
He added that the farm's vertical layout overcomes space constraints. It can also provide fleshier crabs as they are fed and raised here. Imported crabs lose body mass as they are not fed for days en route to Singapore.
The farm's projected annual output is about 200 tonnes of crab.
According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, Singapore imported 5,100 tonnes of crabs from January to November this year.
There are no licensed fish farms cultivating crabs now, but some may import or catch crabs for sale on top of their main farming activities.
Gills 'N' Claws has a fish farm off Pulau Ubin and its parent company, RBI Holding, owns two other crab farms and a hatchery in Sri Lanka, where its mud crabs are bred.
The crabs will be brought here when they are about four months old and weigh about 400g each.
Each crab will be housed in a vertically-stacked, A3-sized plastic container and sprinkled continually with water. The farm can hold up to 40,000 crabs.
They will be fed daily with a ground mixture of chicken liver and trash fish - cheap fish caught off the company's fishery in Pulau Ubin.
When they weigh 800g to 1kg each after about seven weeks, they will be ready for sale.
This system, the brainchild of Mr Suresh, took over two years to research and develop.
"Mud crabs are territorial and carnivorous. In 1 sq m, the advised stocking density is only three crabs," he said. The same space in a vertical farm, he added, can house more than 30.
He added that a vertical farm could eventually lower the cost of Sri Lankan mud crabs, which are an expensive variety favoured for their larger claws.
Most of the crabs eaten here are imported. They can cost more than $30 a kg from wholesalers. Mr Suresh plans to sell his at $26 a kg.
He said that as the company has its own farms and hatcheries, it takes less time to source for and transport the crabs. This lets it transport the young crabs by sea, which is slower than by air.
The crustaceans need not be as tightly packed when shipped, and fewer die during the journey.
Mr Balasundram Pillai, a consultant for Pepper Castle, a restaurant in Dunlop Street which buys imported crabs from Gills 'N' Claws, said the farm's efforts should be encouraged.
"If there is a local pool and source of crabs, consumers' end-cost could be lowered. To have chilli crab cooked using crabs grown here as well would make it a truly Singaporean dish," he said.
This article was first published on Dec 11, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.