VIDEO

Fish farming goes high-tech

Former IT man uses technology to bring industry into 21st century

IT LOOKS like a traditional fish farm floating on the sea, at first. Draw closer to Metropolitan Fishery Group, however, and more begins to meet the eye.

Solar panels are mounted on the roof of a small wooden shelter. And a peek at the owner’s iPhone reveals a water monitoring system which can be accessed remotely.

These are just two of several high-tech features which make the fish farm stand out in an industry that has long depended on low-cost labour instead of technology.

Metropolitan Fishery Group is the brainchild of 50-year-old Malcolm Ong.

In 2007, he took a leap of faith. From being a managing director of a French software company, he plunged into fish farming, despite having no experience.

“It was all because I wanted to buy a boat,” he said. “As I did my research, I got to know more and more fishermen who lamented the dwindling local fish stocks in Singapore. That was when I realised fish farming was feasible and I could make a difference.”

Locally harvested fish currently meets 7 per cent of demand here.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority hopes to increase this to 15 per cent by 2015.

Metropolitan Fishery Group is now the biggest fish farm in this country, capable of producing up to 600 tonnes of fish a year, and selling them under its brand The Fish Farmer.

It helps that new-age fish farms can tailor supply to demand with pinpoint accuracy.

Fish can be bred to the exact size and weight needed by the market.

In contrast, traditional fishingdepends entirely on what gets into the net.

As a veteran of the IT industry, it would seem natural that Mr Ong’s fish farm incorporates high-tech equipment, including the water-monitoring system.

When the oxygen level in the water is low, an alert is sent. Staff can then activate an oxygen pump, giving the fish a better chance of surviving. Low oxygen levels are a common problem for fish farms.

Still, he says, the most important thing he brought from the office to the farm was his people- management skills.

“It’s all about bringing a team of people together. Like in IT, when we worked on projects, in the same way here you need to coordinate people.”

As much as technology has changed the game in the industry, some things remain the same.

Says Mr Ong: “Back-breaking labour. It’s all muscle and human strength. “I need three or four people to reel in a net when it’s filled with fish. Each fish weighs half a kilogram.

“Automation has yet to make an appearance here.”

knatalie@sph.com.sgchanhj@sph.com.sg