Friday, March 6, 2015

SoapBox Time

Fish farms may move from Changi after mass deaths

Some eyeing sites with stronger tides, while others plan to install protection
PUBLISHED ON MAR 4, 2015 8:53 AM
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A plankton bloom at the weekend killed 120 tonnes of fish at Marine Life Aquaculture (left). -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG


After a plankton bloom at the weekend wiped out almost all their stocks of fish, some farmers in Changi are looking at moving to sites with stronger tide conditions.

Others told The Straits Times they planned to invest in more costly closed containment systems that would be protected from such blooms, which can suffocate marine life. The systems cost a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.

The weekend incident was a blow to farms still trying to recover from a similarly devastating bloom a year ago. One of them, Ah Hua Kelong, went online to appeal for donations to help it meet its daily running costs.

Mr Frank Tan, chief operating officer of Marine Life Aquaculture, which produces about 200 tonnes of seabass and threadfin annually, said he had planned to move to two sites - one on Pulau Tekong and the other on the Southern Islands - following last year's incident, which wiped out 20 tonnes of his fish.

Last Saturday's bloom killed 120 tonnes of his fish.

"We spent the past year rebuilding our business and were planning to move only in about a few years' time. We didn't expect another plankton bloom so soon," said Mr Tan, 40. He said he had spent almost a million dollars rebuilding his business.

Yesterday, he was still busy directing staff to bag and remove the dead fish.

Following the authorities' warnings, he had managed to save a few hundred adult fish by moving them to an offshore site located near his Changi farm.

Mr Tan said he will be ready to move in one to two months. He estimates the tides at Pulau Tekong to have a water flow rate three times stronger than those at Changi, so stronger support structures need to be built for the farm.

Fin Fisher owner Timothy Hromatka, 42, is not discounting a move to Pulau Tekong, but estimates he would need $500,000 to do so. "Tekong is farther away (from the mainland), and this means higher operational costs."

The smell of rotting fish was strong around the fish farms, located near the Lorong Halus jetty, yesterday as workers continued to dispose of the dead fish.

As of October last year, home-grown farms contributed about 7 per cent to the industry, producing fish like sea bass and grouper as well as lobsters.

Plankton blooms are caused by factors such as warmer weather and a neap tide, when the high tide is at its lowest.

Some farmers such as Mr Malcolm Ong, chief executive of The Fish Farmer, who is in his 50s, are looking at farming under controlled conditions to protect their stocks from such unpredictable blooms.

But another farmer, Mr Simon Oh, in his 60s, said the systems can be challenging to install. He lost all 35 tonnes of his pomfret last week. "I have no funds to restart my business, much less invest in such equipment," he said.

A good friend sent me the above article two days ago. 

News like this used to upset me.

Today, these kinds of "news pieces" no longer penetrate my psyche.

Catastrophic "events" with fish pens and net pens have been happening in Chile, in Canada, and in the Mediterranean and more, for years.

It is probably happening elsewhere as I write this, it has just not "come to light". 

The press and the "greenies" are just catching up with this news and the "industry" has been able to contain these catastrophic events and shield them from public view until recently.

I am not just being my normal cynical self, but I am tired of trying to enlighten people about this crisis, people that should "get it" but simply do not." 

Over 20 years ago I began talking to corporate leaders, commercial fishery types, and government honchos, about the "Gathering Storm" we are facing given the plight of the world's oceans. 

Open water (in the actual ocean) fish pens, net pens, and other fish enclosures are even deadlier to the ocean than open aquaculture pond systems on land, and that is saying something. 

I believe over the next two decades, the de-nitrification of the ocean floor is going create millions of square miles of toxic "dead zones" globally that will make the problems in the Gulf of Mexico look like "practice"  for the real deal. 

When you combine the ongoing environmental degradation from open air ponds and net pens with the overfishing of wild capture fisheries and the destruction to the benthic layer of the ocean from strip mining the ocean's floor and of course, ongoing damage to the oceans from land based pollution, dumping of waste, etc., and so forth, the oceans are not facing a crisis, they are in one.....

This was the single motivating factor that caused me to start developing the GBT system over 15 years ago. 

And when food shortages start to occur exponentially in the next 5 years and and seafood prices continue to rise, and access to healthy and quality marine protein simply is no longer possible, people will start to scream and governments will start to take notice, and it will be too late.  

And the irony will be this, we as a species, caused every bit of this crisis, all by ourselves. 

GBT is going to try and do more.  

We are aggressively developing a research protocol to begin looking at several species of highly nutritious fin fish that we believe we can grow with our current technology, and it will be our objective to be in commercial production in about 36 months. 

Over the past 15 years as we have worked to develop our technology for shrimp production we have faced and dealt with naysayers, derogatory critiques from industry pundits, disreputable manufacturers and suppliers, greed driven "partners", uninterested and unhelpful government leaders, and worse, and yet we have persevered and the system is working and in point of fact, we are already making  improvements as we speak, that will make it more efficient and more productive. 

I no longer even try to "sell" the GBT system.

With rare exceptions most members of our species are either so damn "profit driven" or "too damn stupid" or simply "indifferent" to see the obvious. 

And the pace at which governments and businesses proceed is glacial. 

I have finally learned a lesson that has eluded me all my life, "I can only deal with things I can control", I simply can no longer get upset over things beyond my ability to control.

So, we at GBT, will continue to work as hard and as intelligently as possible to expand our shrimp production side of the company while moving forward as fast as prudently possible to start raising high quality fin fish in our system. 

Meanwhile I believe there will be a continuing cascade of these "environmental catastrophes" that will spread like wild fire in the coming decade and there will (be to use the biblical expression) more "wailing and gnashing of teeth" as the global production of marine protein collapses. 

Given my cynical sense of humor I can see an upside, we may not have to worry about global warming? 

If we will starve to death (or kill through food borne diseases") half the planet's human population by 2040 and then the greenhouses gases emitted by human activities causing global warning will be cut in half by sheer population reduction and no legislation or compliance will be needed. (You have to love "irony").

In my opinion, the human species is truly the most paradoxical species that ever existed.

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