Barramundi Asia aims to reel in fish lovers as it expands

Mr Staarman said more consumers are choosing fish over red meat as they become more health conscious.
Mr Staarman said more consumers are choosing fish over red meat as they become more health conscious.THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTO

Local fish farm Barramundi Asia is expecting business to skyrocket within the next three years. The firm believes annual sales of the barramundi it farms could surge to 6 million kg a year by 2019 from about 500,000kg of fish last year.

The firm did not export the fish to the United States last year but intends to export 20,000 kg a month there by the end of this year.

It has entered into a partnership with seafood exporter Sano Seafood and began shipping to the United States last month.

The total production capacity of its two fish farms in Singapore is 6 million kg a year.

When asked about this opportunity for growth, chief executive Joep Staarman said that Barramundi's output last year was very small compared to global seafood demand. As a result, there was significant room for expansion.

The total global demand a year for barramundi is 160 million kg, and growing by a little over 10 per cent a year, said Mr Staarman, who was previously the managing director for Asia-Pacific at Marine Harvest.

Mr Andrew Kwan, group managing director of Commonwealth Capital, which is a majority owner of Barramundi Asia, said that a significant long-term driver of demand for farmed barramundi is that the supply of wild fish from the ocean is depleting.

Mr Staarman said increasing consumer health consciousness has also driven more consumers towards fish, which is regarded as a healthier choice than red meat. One of the firm's competitive advantages is that its fish are grown in the sea, and taste better than barramundi bred in freshwater, he said. The barramundi - known by different names across Asia - can live in saltwater and freshwater. When freshwater barramundi is cooked, it may retain a muddy smell from the pond, he said.

To manage manpower costs, the company uses automatic feeding systems and it has purchased a fish scaling machine.

Barramundi Asia has a 7.5ha European Union-certified farm off Pulau Semakau. The second farm site, located just off Raffles Lighthouse, is 12ha in size. The business is exploring areas outside Singapore where it can expand further.

Mr Steve Aw, assistant vice-president for marketing at the restaurant chain TungLok Group, said that TungLok orders barramundi only from this firm. "The meat itself is very sweet and fresh; after grilling, the skin is crispy. Customers like it a lot, it doesn't have a fishy smell like some other fish," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Barramundi Asia aims to reel in fish lovers as it expands'. Print Edition | Subscribe