Fish farms get help, make plans to prepare for harmful algae blooms

Workers at the Marine Life Aquaculture's ( MLA ) coastal fish farm on Jan 18, 2016.
Workers at the Marine Life Aquaculture's ( MLA ) coastal fish farm on Jan 18, 2016.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Marine Life Aquaculture, where an algae bloom killed 120 tonnes of fish in 2015.
Marine Life Aquaculture, where an algae bloom killed 120 tonnes of fish in 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE- More than 60 fish farms affected by the devastating algae bloom early last year have received assistance from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

The devastating bloom affected 77 coastal fish farms last year and caused millions of dollars in losses for coastal fish farms off the East and West Johor Straits - which mostly rear their fish in open net-cages.

To date, 63 of the 77 affected farms have accepted help from the AVA. Under the one-time assistance package, AVA will pay for 70 per cent of the farm's cost to restock fish fry, but farms will need to demonstrate that they have a workable contingency plan in place when the next algae bloom strikes.

These figures were revealed on Monday (Jan 18) during a visit to fish farms by Minister of State for National Development, and Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon.

"With global warming, I think there is probably a likelihood that it (algae blooms) will happen again," said Dr Koh.

"As part of business continuity, our fish farmers really need to think about leveraging on technology to make their business resilient."

Factors such as dry weather and an excess of nutrients can lead to an overgrowth of algae in the waters. While not all algae are harmful, some can suffocate fish, or cause gill damage - as was the case last year.

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

He has since developed a contingency plan using canvas bags which would allow him to save his broodstock in the event an algae bloom hits.

"You are usually able to tell weeks before when an algae bloom is about to come. The fish would not be eating well...," said Mr Tan. "With the canvas bags, you can keep the fish there for 15 days and by then, the algal bloom would most likely be over."

Separately, three fish farms have finished developing prototypes for their closed containment aquaculture systems after the Government had awarded a tender in April last year.

While costly to implement, such systems are able to protect the fish from external environmental conditions and are equipped with water treatment systems to maintain optimal water quality for breeding fish stocks.

Among other efforts, AVA has also developed a colour-coded SMS alert system to warn coastal fish farmers of algal blooms. In the SMS alerts, farmers will be advised on follow up actions depending on the severity of the situation.