15 February 2016

Why are Barramundi Asia fish farm workers harvesting wildlife at Pulau Semakau?

Barramundi Asia fish farm is located close to natural Pulau Semakau's shores. We have noticed disturbing impacts of this fish farm in the past: from from signs of dubious trash disposal, littering with large farm trash and even parking their equipment on the seagrass meadows.
Green mangroves and coastal forest of natural Pulau Semakau
with Barramundi Asia farm in front of it.
During our survey on 8 Feb 2016, we noticed Barramundi Asia workers appear to be laying large fishing nets in the mangroves of Pulau Semakau.
We came across a similar net in Aug 2013.  Is Barramundi Asia harvesting wildlife to feed the commercially farmed fish? As the farm is said to be the largest fish farm in Singapore, its poor farm practices can potentially cause much damage to Pulau Semakau.

This is the location of the Barramundi Asia fish farm next to Pulau Semakau South and the Semakau Landfill.  It has grown much larger since it was first set up in 2008.
When we first arrived, we notice three men wearing orange uniforms walking along the seawall towards the mangroves of Pulau Semakau.
They were carrying bags with them.
Another look at the men.
Later on, during our survey, the men were seen preparing large fishing nets within the mangroves.
The men were seen returning to the Barramundi Asia fish farm some time later.
On this trip, I also came across one small bundle of abandoned net. We removed it.
This is not our first encounter with nets laid on this shore. In Aug 2013, we had seen a 150-200m long driftnet on this shore which had trapped sharks, horseshoe crabs, stingrays. I saw 14 horseshoe crabs that were still alive and struggling and seemed freshly entangled in the net. Including two pairs of male and female. They all looked like Coastal horseshoe crabs.
I also came across five dead Blue-spotted fantail rays.
Loh Kok Sheng saw three small sharks that were covered in flies. More photos of these on Kok Sheng's blog post.
Photo by Loh Kok Sheng
Practices such as uncontrolled commercial harvest of wildlife can have a serious impact on the marine ecosystem.

An ecosystem is a system. Much like a car is a system. How many things can we remove from a car before it stops working? Sometimes, losing one small thing (e.g., spark plug) can cause the car to break down. Thus, unmanaged wild harvesting can have detrimental effects over the long term.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) is in charge of the Fisheries Act – Fisheries (Fishing Gear) Rules. Does AVA monitor and manage wild harvesting for commercial purposes?  What is the data on commercial harvesting? What principles does AVA adopt for managing commercial harvesting?

Barramundi Asia fish farm littering on Pulau Semakau

The Barramundi Asia fish farm doesn't appear to care if its equipment litter Pulau Semakau. It appears, they even parked huge farm equipment right on top of the seagrass meadows of Pulau Semakau!

On 8 Feb 2016, I came across a battery and a bucket on the shore. I find it hard to believe the battery could have 'floated' onto the shore. Is trash being dumped by the farm on Pulau Semakau?
I would not be surprised because in the past, we had seen signs of dubious trash disposal on Barramundi Asia. In Oct 2013, Pei Yan blogged: "We passed by quite close to the fish farm next to Semakau. There is a barge right next to the fish farm loaded with stacks of bags which may be fish food. On the barge (right side on the photo), there seems to be a large rectangular metal container used for incinerating things. I could see smoke coming out of the rectangular container and smelled something being burnt."
Photo by Heng Pei Yan on her blog.
In Aug 2014, we noticed that on a large barge in the distance, there was a tank that not only looks burnt, but is placed on the barge so that the vertical gap in the tank is positioned over the water. Does Barramundi Asia burn trash in this tank and the ashes just chucked into the water?
On 8 Feb 2016, I could not see a similar set up on the large barge. Or perhaps it's covered by tarps?

Once again, I would like to highlight that the authorities should work together with fish farmers to provide all fish farmers a practical and reasonable way to accommodate their trash needs. Today, every business and household on the mainland and every ship parked in port is provided with daily door-to-door trash collection. But all coastal fish farms licenced by the AVA are NOT provided with a similar service.

In Aug 2013, we noticed a large platform at Barramundi Asia which seems to be barely floating above the water. It was loaded with netting, barrels and other farm items
In Aug 2014, the floating platforms still looks the same, one edge of the platform is sloping alarmingly into the water.
On our trip in 8 Feb 2016 this year, the platform has not been fixed.
The edge of the platform that slopes into the water appears to be in even worse repair.
Would items loaded on the platform fall into the water in stormy weather? Are such arrangements spotted during AVA's regular site checks? Does AVA approve of such storage arrangements?

In May 2011, a team of volunteers already had to remove a huge net that probably came from the fish farm. It had washed up onto the middle of Pulau Semakau, entangled near the mangroves that include rare and Critically Endangered trees such as Api-api jambu.
This is just a small portion of the entire net that we removed.
In May 2011, we came across a huge circular contraption 'parked' on the Southern shore of Pulau Semakau that we suspect belongs to the fish farm
Marcus took a photo of this contraption in April 2011 during low tide.
Photo by Marcus Ng, also featured on Nicole's blog

How do fish farms impact the surrounding marine ecosystem?

Poorly run fish farms can damage the surrounding marine ecosystems. This is ironic because the it is these marine ecosystems that provide the good water quality that fish farms need to raise their fish.

Fish farms can seriously pollute the waters with the following:
  • Drugs and chemicals used to treat and prepare farmed fish, such as antibiotics and formalin.
  • Excess and uneaten food given to farmed fish;
  • Wastes of farmed fish.
Natural wildlife can also be affected by parasites and diseases that spread from farmed fish. A study in Jan 2016 found a devastating virus in Canada's farmed salmon, wild salmon and sea lice that feed on farmed salmon. This virus has caused billions of dollars in losses to aquaculture in Chile.

Non-native farm fishes which escape can threaten native wild fish and unbalance the ecosystem.

Does Barramundi Asia care?

This is what Barramundi Asia's sister website Kuhlbarra says about their Environment & Sustainability

Barramundi Asia says: "The best evidence of the success of our environmentally sensitive approach can be seen in the delicate coral reef that thrives just 200 meters away from our farm."

And yet, over the years, we have seen Barramundi Asia workers treat this delicate coral reef very poorly.

I have written to them with our observations and will update this post with their replies (if any).

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