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Innovative one-stop fishing platform to tackle mass fish deaths caused by algae blooms

Local fish farmers in Singapore have lost tens if not hundreds of thousands worth of fish stock to Hazardous Algae Blooms (HABs) in recent years due to the rise of sea temperature and increased pollution.

Just this year in the month of February and March, 75 fish farms in the East and West Johor Strait were affected, resulting in 500 to 600 tonnes of fish stock being lost due to algae poisoning. Fish farmers had to bear the blunt of the losses.

To address this issue, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority is allowing fish farmers to tap the Agriculture Productivity Fund to purchase equipment for contingency plans to prepare for recurring HABs. The fish farmers may receive co-funding support of 50 per cent, up to a cap of $50,000.

The requirement for contingency plans will help farms "build resilience through the development of a deployable contingency plan to handle similar future incidents" said AVA.

One of the local fish farmers, Mr Philip Lim, 53 who is also the Chairman of Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative is poised to introduce an innovative system which could address and solve the problems faced by fish farms caused by the HABs these recent years.

"Due to regular plankton bloom/HAB occurrence that we, farmers, cannot tolerate losses anymore. There are no solutions from AVA since the beginning of plankton bloom in 2010," said Mr Lim, who lost $50,000 worth of his fish stock at his farm this year due to the HAB.

Mr Lim said that this system is specially designed for Singapore due to the limited land resources and frequent plankton bloom (HAB) occurrence.

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"One-Stop Fish Farming platform"

The proposed design is 97.025m in length and 40.6m wide with a height of 4m, which would cycle 25 cubic tonnes of water per cycle plus the rearing of 150,000 fingerlings concurrently.

The plan is for a fully automated offshore fish farm, powered by solar panels with generator sets as backup. The water recycling system is designed to complete with microbe biology with ozone for sterilisation purposes. It will also be fitted with a chiller for water temperature control.

Mr Lim says that this system just has to be monitored by two persons per shift. During occurrences of HAB, the water system will be totally isolated from the sea and run as a recycling system. This will then allow fish farmers to rear their fish stocks with total isolation from the pollutants without fear of losing their investment overnight.

It is said that Norway is in the midst of working out this fishing system and only started in July 2015. The system is expected to roll out in 2017. (see more)

"This is a new revolution. With our current water condition, we can no longer progress with our traditional fish farming methods," said Mr Lim.

However, Mr Lim and the other fish farmers are stuck in their progress in implementing this system. Under AVA regulations, any modification to the fish farms has to be approved by AVA and the authorities have yet to give the green light for them to go ahead with the plans.

Mr Lim said that AVA and the fish farmers had their first meeting on 12 May this year and presented the system to the agency. A team of 10 which consisted of builders, technicians, software engineers, and water specialists were present at the meeting, they were fed with as much information as what the fish farmers could, according to Mr Lim.

"We have proposed this idea to AVA since May 2015. They have yet to come back to us and insist on getting more technical information about it before they could proceed. However, those technical data are commercial secrets which we are unable to reveal till they approve our plans."

Since their first presentation, the fish farmers had met AVA on another two occasions to repeat their presentation of the system as AVA claims that the agency has yet to grasp the concept behind this system. Apart from the arranged meetings, the fish farmers also had several emails correspondence with AVA, seeking to clarify any questions that the agency may have.

Till today, AVA is still saying that it does not understand the system and would like to know more about the system - without specifying the conditions in which it would give the go-ahead for the fish farmers to implement the system.

Mr Lim say that the fishermen do not need much help from the government as the system is not labour intensive and fully automated. "It is all about dollars and cents only if you are talking about food sustainability. No land required."

"They just need to give the green light and we can go ahead with our system," lamented Mr Lim, worrying about the upcoming HAB in another few months time that would most likely decimate the fish stocks of local fish farmers once again.

TOC has contacted AVA on the matter two weeks ago. AVA said that it would look into Mr Lim's project but has yet given a response since.