Fish farmers preparing for algae bloom

Fish farmers hit by an algae bloom that wiped out more than 500 tonnes of stocks last year, are developing contingency plans in case another occurs.

Some 77 coastal farms were affected by last year's bloom between February and March, losing millions of dollars. One farmer put his losses at $1.3 million.

Those who have developed contingency plans for similar incidents in the future can receive financial assistance from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which pays up to 70 per cent of the cost of buying new fish fry.

To date, 63 affected farms have accepted this assistance although the AVA has not revealed how much it has paid out. Eighteen farms have developed these plans and others are in the process of doing so.

Contingency plans can include transferring fishes from open-net cages to canvas bags equipped with aerators and oxygen pumps, housing them in a protected environment that does not expose them to the harmful algae blooms.

Separately, the AVA has handed out more than $1.5 million in funding to help 72 coastal fish farmers purchase equipment such as aerators and canvas to support their contingency plans.

The AVA revealed these figures yesterday during a media event at which the Minister of State for National Development, and Trade and Industry, Dr Koh Poh Koon, visited fish farms along the East Johor Strait.

"With global warming, it is probably a likelihood that it (an algae bloom) will happen again," said Dr Koh. "Our fish farmers need to really think about leveraging technology to make their business resilient. At the end of the day, it's... also about our food source being resilient so it is in our interest to see them succeed."

Currently, about 8 per cent of fish consumed here is produced locally and the Government hopes to increase this to 15 per cent.

Factors, such as dry weather and an excess of nutrients, can lead to an overgrowth of algae. While not all algae is harmful, some types kill fish by cutting off their supply of oxygen or by damaging their gills - as was the case last year.

One farmer who has benefited from the assistance package is Mr Frank Tan, 41, chief operating officer of Marine Life Aquaculture, which lost 138 tonnes of fish during last year's incident.

He has since used canvas bags equipped with aerators and oxygen pumps. This would allow him to save his broodstock - mature fish which are able to breed - in the event an algae bloom hits.

"With the canvas bags, you can keep the fish there for 15 days and by then, the algae bloom would most likely be over."

Separately, three fish farms have completed their projects to develop closed containment aquaculture systems after the Government awarded a tender to build them last April.

Such systems protect the fish from external environment conditions and are equipped with water treatment systems to maintain good water quality for breeding.

This article was first published on January 19, 2016.
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