The fishing industry and the authorities have played down fears of seafood shortages, saying Singapore is "well-prepared" for Malaysia's temporary restrictions on exports of certain varieties of wild-caught fish and shrimp.
The Malaysian government said on Monday that it will prohibit the exports of the seafood from Jan 1 to Feb 28 and from May 1 to June 30 next year to meet supply shortages during the monsoon and festive seasons. Similar bans were in place in the past six years.
The affected species, which include the live, chilled and frozen forms, are kembong (Indian mackerel), pelaling (short-bodied mackerel), selar (horse mackerel), salayang (sardines), bawal putih (silver pomfret) and all shrimp and prawn.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said yesterday that the restrictions are not likely to have a significant impact on Singapore's overall seafood supply as importers are "well-prepared to tap other readily available sources during the stated periods". It noted Malaysia's exports of these six species of seafood made up less than 10 per cent of the Republic's total seafood supply last year.
Malaysia tends to cut back on its exports as the monsoon season affects the volume of catches and the Chinese New Year festive period raises domestic demand.
Mr Lee Boon Cheow, president of the Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association, told The Straits Times that the twice-a-year export bans have made "no impact to our fishery industry". Singapore gets its seafood from other countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, said Mr Lee, 79.
Indonesia is the Republic's biggest seafood supplier, accounting for between 40 per cent and 50 per cent. "There is no need to worry about not (having) enough fish," he said.
USUAL FALL IN SUPPLY
Every year it's the same. Because of the Chinese New Year, there's a decrease in the supply. Malaysians also need to eat and celebrate.
MR TAY PENG KIAT, owner of Chip Hong (Pin Sin) Fishery, on the fall in supply of fish from Malaysia during the festive period.
For example, pomfret, a popular fish for the Chinese New Year period, is imported mainly from Indonesia, he said. Fish prices typically surge in the lead-up to the festivities due to higher demand, rather than any shortage in supply.
Mr Tay Peng Kiat, 52, owner of Chip Hong (Pin Sin) Fishery, said: "Every year it's the same. Because of the Chinese New Year, there's a decrease in the supply. Malaysians also need to eat and celebrate."
However, the price of pomfret is expected to double from the usual $20 per kg to $40 per kg, owing to the bump in demand, he said.
Prawns can increase from $15 per kg to $25 per kg.
A spokesman for supermarket operator Sheng Siong, which has 54 supermarkets across Singapore, said the bans are not expected to have "a significant impact" on business.
Eateries are also accustomed to working around seasonal shortages in ingredients.
A spokesman for the Punggol Nasi Lemak outlet in Kovan said: "If there's no selar, we can substitute it with a fish that is of the same size."
"Every year there will be a slump," she said of the fish. "Due to the seasonal monsoon, with a change in weather, there could be fewer fishermen out at sea. Another reason could be the demand in other countries rising too, so a greater portion of the supply goes to the other countries.
"To cope with a shortage, we can also resort to using frozen fish. Or we can just limit the number of fish sold per day."
• Additional reporting by Tiffany Fumiko Tay