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AVA steps up efforts to help fish farmers safeguard their livestock

SINGAPORE — The Agri-food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has stepped up its efforts to monitor the quality of coastal waters, in order to give early warnings to farmers when possible adverse conditions are detected.

AVA steps up efforts to help fish farmers safeguard their livestock

Minister of State (Trade and Industry) Dr Koh Poh Koon visiting a coastal farm yesterday. He hopes to increase the output of local fish farms from the current 8 per cent of fish consumed in Singapore to at least 15 per cent in future. Photo: Ernest Chua

SINGAPORE — The Agri-food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has stepped up its efforts to monitor the quality of coastal waters, in order to give early warnings to farmers when possible adverse conditions are detected.

Recent outbreaks of harmful algal blooms in the past years have threatened Singapore fisheries. Last year alone, more than 500 tonnes of fish were killed by such outbreaks, which are hard to predict or prevent.

The monitoring frequency by the AVA has gone up from one to two times a month to one to two times a week, an AVA spokesperson said, although there were no details on when “high risk periods” are since research is ongoing.

Along with the more frequent monitoring, a new colour-coded early warning system for coastal fish farmers in Singapore has been rolled out, which advises them via SMS on the appropriate follow-up actions depending on how severe the situation is. The alerts allow farmers to deploy the relevant strategies, such as isolating their livestock from the harmful plankton bloom (HAB).

The AVA has offered support to the affected farms with a one-time assistance package, to help them recover and build up farm resilience to future plankton episodes.

As part of the aid, the AVA will pay for 70 per cent of the cost to restock fish fry after the farms demonstrate that they have in place contingency plans. More than 60 out of the 77 farms that were affected by last year’s episode have taken up the offer.

Mr Bryan Ang, 25, marketing manager at Ah Hua Kelong, whose farm took up the package, said: “It helps to cover some of our losses, any help is better than no help.”

As part of a Co-Innovation Partnership Programme (CIP) which encourages the design and development of Closed Containment Aquaculture System for coastal fish farms, three workable prototypes have been developed to help coastal fish farmers protect their livestock from the harmful plankton.

With CIP funding, a 100-per-cent closed-containment system has been deployed at one farm, Singapore Aquaculture Technologies. It uses large culture tanks supported by a continuous water treatment system, and they are isolated from the sea, helping them to avoid the harmful plankton in seawater.

The other two prototypes at the Blue Ocean Harvest and Phaedrus Aquatech farms offer deployable closed containment canvas bags in the event of poor water quality. A mechanised system at Blue Ocean can deploy a containment bag within less than 10 minutes with a single worker.

While these prototype close-containment systems have proven conceptually effective in tackling the plankton issue, some farmers are standing back and waiting for the long-term viability of the system before considering adopting them.

Mr Ang said: “Even though overseas testing has been successful, the local waters may be different, so we are not ready to take the risk at the moment. Barnacles may clog up the system and there is a possibility that HABs can bloom within the containment system itself.”

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State (Trade and Industry), took a tour around the coastal farms yesterday. He said: “Every farmer will have to find the technology that suits them best, and in the long term there will be some gains using technology.”

He hopes to increase the output of Singapore fish farms from the current eight per cent of fish consumed in Singapore to at least 15 per cent in future.

“Our fish farmers will need to use technology to ensure business continuity and resilience,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about their business being resilient, but also our food source being resilient. So, it is in our interest to see them succeed.”

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