19 January 2010

Update on the mass fish deaths at Pasir Ris and Pulau Ubin

34 fish farms were 'wiped out' when fish valued at about $3 million suffocated in oxygen-poor water, first at Pasir Ris, then at Pulau Ubin.
Fish farms off Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin
Fish farms as seen from the Chek Jawa boardwalk.

A group of 25 fish farmers decided to get together to fast forward a plan to form a cooperative of fish farmers. They will also be sending a letter of appeal to Minister of National Development Mah Bow Tan.

In the letter, they will raise among others:
  • The Government to give them a grant or an interest-free loan to restart their farms. They felt that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA)'s offer to bear the cost of disposing of the dead fish and to help them replenish their fish stocks through bulk purchases was insufficient.
  • They want to know what the AVA will do to prevent similar incidents and when a plan for an early-warning system will be ready.
  • More information on the AVA's test results of the dead fish and seawater. Not all among them accept its explanation of a plankton bloom.

Earlier, the AVA listed the actions it would take:
  • Bear the cost of disposal of the dead fish.
  • Link farmers up with reputable suppliers of good quality frys so that the farmers can explore bulk purchasing to reduce cost of restocking.
  • Continuing with on-site monitoring at the farms to monitor water conditions as well as providing technical advice to the farmers.
  • Will work with the farmers to formulate contingency plans to prepare for similar situations. This includes putting in place appropriate aeration systems and sourcing for insurance coverage.
  • Will work with the relevant experts to identify potential triggers for plankton bloom.
  • Will carry out research and development to explore technological solutions and develop an early warning system.
Separately, the AVA also said that it "already has in place a programme to monitor the water quality in coastal fish farming areas regularly, there are currently no foolproof methods that can accurately predict an impending bloom."

The AVA added that "the monitoring programme has to be complemented by good aquaculture practices ... which include avoiding overstocking of netcages."

AVA said in the recent case, it "was alerted about fish deaths in the Pasir Ris Beach area on Dec 26. Investigations were conducted immediately and fish farmers were quickly advised on mitigation measures for plankton bloom."

Meanwhile, Kok Sheng did a quick survey of Chek Jawa during the TeamSeagrass monitoring to see if there was any impact on the shores there.

And KCK shared some valuable thoughts about the mass fish deaths and details of what it takes to set up a proper monitoring system: among others, $1 million!

It seems that the situation caught fish farmers and the authorities unawares.

I wonder if they will now pay attention to the surrounding ecosystems (mangroves, seagrass meadows)? And the ecological services these provide in maintaining good water quality?

Would restoring and protecting such habitats be just as or more effective than expensive technological solutions?

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