Saturday 15 February 2014

AVA support for farmers hit by mass fish deaths

By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2014

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 yesterday.

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 yesterday 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).

Mass fish deaths: AVA to fund 70% of re-stocking cost for affected farmers
By Woo Sian Boon, TODAY, 19 Feb 2014

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) yesterday laid out how it is assisting fish farmers affected by the mass die-offs earlier this month to re-stock their farms.

The AVA will source for and facilitate the bulk purchase of quality fish fry and fingerlings, said a National Development Ministry spokesperson last night. In addition, the AVA will co-fund 70 per cent of the cost of the fry and fingerlings, with farmers paying the rest.

“To help farmers develop better resilience in fish production, the AVA will also co-fund 70 per cent of the purchase of equipment and systems required to be put in place to mitigate against similar incidents in the future,” said the ministry’s spokesperson.

The spokesperson’s comments came after Minister of State (National Development) Maliki Osman had assured Parliament earlier yesterday that the AVA is working “very closely” with fish-farm owners to develop better systems so that they can cope with sudden adverse changes to the environment and meet production targets better.

To help fish farms along the East Johor Straits dispose of waste in a proper way, a jetty with a waste collection centre will be built at Lorong Halus, Dr Maliki said.

The centre — which will start operating at the end of the year — will be similar to that of fish farms on the western and southern coasts, which are served by a central disposal system at the Lim Chu Kang jetty, he told Parliament.

Ms Faizah also pointed out that she had not spotted any skid tanks — huge metal tanks often used for industrial waste — for fish farm waste in the Changi area prior to the recent mass fish deaths.

The AVA said on Feb 11 that about 160 tonnes of dead fish were reported by 39 fish farms along both the East and West Johor Straits. The mass deaths could have been caused by a plankton bloom — brought on by hot weather or the neap tide — which can drain seawater of oxygen.

“These questions were filed before the recent incident of fish deaths, so I think the questions are even more important at this stage for us to consider,” Ms Faizah said.

Ms Faizah also wanted to know if the AVA monitors water quality, and why it did not give advance notice on the plankton bloom — which drains seawater of oxygen — that caused the mass fish deaths.

Noting that the plankton bloom “happened very fast”, Dr Maliki added that a “multitude of factors”, such as the susceptibility of certain types of fish to low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, led to the mass deaths.

Cheaper sensor to check water quality
Device being developed in S'pore can help local fish farmers
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2014

A WATER-QUALITY sensor being developed in Singapore will cost nearly half the price of similar systems now in the market, which could be a boon for local fish farmers on a tight budget.

It will be able to detect - within seconds - more than 100 types of organic and inorganic substances found in waters here.

These include chlorophyll, which can indicate the presence of algal blooms deadly to fish. It can also detect low levels of dissolved oxygen in water.

Both of these were cited as factors when 160 tonnes of fish died at 39 farms in Singapore's northern waters earlier this month.

The cake-size sensor being built by scientists from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) can warn farmers through a cellphone message when chlorophyll levels spike or oxygen levels get dangerously low.

It can also be configured to activate farms' aeration systems to add oxygen to the water.

The sensor's development, which began in 2009, was funded by the National Research Foundation. It is being commercialised by a local water technology start-up firm, which Smart research scientist Kelvin Ng declined to name.

The sensor is expected to cost around $25,000, compared with up to $40,000 for similar sensors, he said, adding that pre-orders can already be made.

Calling it a "lower-cost" option for fish farmers, Dr Ng said: "It would be very easy for them to use. The sensor will interpret the data in layman's terms for them."

Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative chairman Phillip Lim said that $25,000 for an early warning system such as this "was a very good price" but stressed that it would first have to be tested to prove its effectiveness in preventing mass fish deaths.

Dr Ng hopes the sensor will also "empower" both industry and government agencies with quicker, real-time water sampling.

The SMART sensor can be deployed on ships or autonomous underwater vehicles.

PUB already monitors reservoir water quality, testing for levels of pH, dissolved oxygen, phosphorus and nitrates among others.

The National Environment Agency has a network of buoys to provide early warning of oil and chemical spills in the southern waters.

There have been no discussions yet with either agency.

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