Category Archives: Aquaculture

Frankenstein’s Fish via The Coral Triangle

“AquAdvantage® Salmon…advanced hybrid salmon designed to grow faster.” Could you get a starker strapline for the commodification of fauna? As the challenges of feeding an exploding global population continue to grow, branded animals like these GM salmon produced by biotech company Aquabounty Technologies could be commonplace, but what about the dangers? GM salmon made headlines recently, with some fearing threats to wild stocks in the Atlantic if they were to escape.

Hybrid grouper on the other hand get almost no media attention, yet they potentially pose a far greater danger.  Hybridization is big business in South East Asia, where aquaculture businesses are interbreeding valuable grouper species  in a bid to create a fast growing  super fish.

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Live grouper are highly prized in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan and other parts of South East Asia. They crowd tanks in seafood restaurants and are ubiquitous at Chinese wedding banquets and other formal occasions, where tradition demands they are served. Grouper can  sell for more than US$100 a kilo and very large or rare specimens for much more. The market is huge – in Hong Kong alone, a staggering 3.6 million grouper are consumed each year.

But demand has led to rampant overfishing across South East Asia’s Coral Triangle bioregion.  Fishermen often use cyanide to stun fish, destroying coral reefs in the process. According to a recent University of Hong Kong study, one in ten grouper species face extinction if current trends aren’t arrested.

On the face of it, advanced aquaculture techniques offer a way of fulfilling market demand while reducing the pressure on wild populations. Grouper are nurtured first in hatcheries from cultivated eggs and then in coastal cages or sometimes factories on land. The goal of hybridization is to achieve the holy trinity of rapid growth rates, resilience and superior taste.

“Hybridization of grouper isn’t new,” says Geoffrey Muldoon, a marine biologist with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) “In 1996 the University of Malaysia in Sabah, Borneo produced a giant grouper/tiger grouper, dubbed the Sabah Grouper specifically for live reef fish food markets in Hong Kong,” he explains. The hybrid was a huge success with consumers and a boom followed. “Fast forward almost two decades and the science of grouper hybridisation has exploded,” says Muldoon.

In the early days, scientists only experimented with cross breeding natural grouper species. But then researchers in Taiwan went a step further. They began breeding hybrids with naturals and then different hybrids with each other. According to Irwin Wong, a live fish trader in Sabah, at last count, there were at least 12 new hybrid grouper variants and research is continuing in what has become a race to create a super grouper.

GM salmon are farmed inland, making escape relatively unlikely.  But grouper are often kept in cages at sea.. “The fact is, hybrids may already have escaped,” says Wong. “If there’s a storm, fish often get free.” His fear is that two hybrids will breed in the wild. “If that happened, the effects on the ecosystem could be devastating.”

Grouper are hermaphrodites – or monandric protogynous hermaphrodites to give them their full title. Early in their growth cycle they are females, but in adulthood they can change into males. No one knows the precise trigger for this transformation, though size, age and environmental factors all play a part. Hybrid groupers in captivity are all female – but in the wild they could easily change sex, according to Wong. Which brings up the possibility of a sort of “X-Grouper” wreaking havoc with the food chain.

The current scientific consensus is that hybrid grouper are infertile – but since their reproductive cycle is still not fully understood, this is far from fact. At an Intergovernmental Forum of the six Coral Triangle countries in early 2013, experts agreed that “the hybridization of grouper has reached an alarming level, that escapes pose an as yet unknown risk to local wild populations and that this issue needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Experts are meeting again to discuss the issue at the world’s first World Coral Reef Conference in Indonesia on 16 May.

The live reef fish for food trade is a notoriously under regulated industry. It’s also highly lucrative – worth as much as US$1 billion annually. But consumption tends to follow a boom and bust cycle. Once the Sabah Grouper became readily available its per kilo value dropped dramatically. “The pursuit of a faster growing hybrid species is understandable, but there is little evidence to suggest patterns of consumer demand truly merit more efforts on hybridisation,” says Muldoon. He believes the industry needs to self-regulate for hybridisation to become viable. More research on both the science and the market for groupers is desperately needed – but criminal elements and an industry wide culture of secrecy makes this difficult.

In the meantime, the possibility of a “Frankenfish” wreaking havoc across reef ecosystems in the Coral Triangle is a real and growing danger.

via FRANKENSTEIN’S FISH | Stories | The Coral Triangle.

Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund Invites Applications

The Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund has opened for applications. The Fund aims to help the local fisheries community move towards sustainable or high value-added operations so that the trade can enhance its overall competitiveness and cope with new challenges. This will allow fishermen to improve their ability to cope with the changing operating environment as well as their own livelihoods.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said: “Capture fisheries in Hong Kong are affected by the depletion of fisheries resources and the trawl ban. Despite the opportunities available as a result of the restructuring of the fisheries industry, many local fishermen remain cautious about the prospects of growth while others are held back by the risks and technical challenges involved. Meanwhile, aquaculture also needs support for modernisation.

“Against this background, the administration has identified five possible areas for the fishing community and related stakeholders to put the Fund to good use, in furtherance of the objectives of placing the further development of the industry on a sustainable track. Projects not falling within such areas will also be considered as long as they are in line with the purpose of the Fund and meet the assessment criteria.

“The five areas are exploring new opportunities in the South China Sea, development of sustainable practices for fishing operations in Hong Kong waters, aquaculture development, accreditation and marketing of local fisheries products, and fisheries resources monitoring and enhancement.”

In vetting applications, the Advisory Committee on Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund (the Advisory Committee) will give due consideration to the project needs, feasibility and expected outcomes. The projects should contribute in a direct and practical way towards the sustainable development of the local fisheries industry. The benefits they bring about must accrue to the local fisheries community as a whole.

In general, the projects should be non-profit-making, but commercial projects may also be considered. Applicants will be required to draw up detailed business plans and budgets for the Advisory Committee to scrutiny. Projects involving commercial elements will be funded on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis. The Government’s contribution will be limited to no more than 50 per cent of the total project cost.

Eligible applicants include legal entities that have demonstrated a close connection with the local fisheries industry such as local incorporated companies, registered fisheries co-operatives, non-profit-making fisheries organisations, non-governmental organisations or social enterprises, as well as academic and research institutions in Hong Kong.

Applications are accepted throughout the year and the Advisory Committee will meet regularly to vet the applications. Completed application forms, together with information of the applicant demonstrating their connection with the local fisheries industry, should reach the Secretariat for the Fund at least six months prior to the commencement of the project.

Application guidelines and forms can be downloaded from the AFCD website (www.afcd.gov.hk) while hard copy is available from the Secretariat for the Fund and the liaison offices of the Fish Marketing Organization.

Source: The Fish Site, 11/7/2014

Hong Kong gets its ASC sustainable seafood guide

The latest edition of the Sustainable Seafood Guide includes information for seafood consumers in Hong Kong shopping for responsibly farmed fish.

For the first time, the guide educates on the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) logo for responsible aquaculture.

“This is a great step forward in informing Asian seafood customers about the ASC. By choosing seafood with the ASC logo, shoppers can make a difference and help protecting oceans, vulnerable marine environments and local farm communities,” said ASC’s CEO Chris Ninnes.

There are currently 1,120 ASC certified seafood products available in 37 countries across the globe.

“Not only is our market share growing in Asia, but we have an expanding base of certified farms in the region including Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam; and we anticipate strong future growth,” Ninnes said.

The Hong Kong Sustainable Seafood Guide is produced by World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) Hong Kong.

The methodology that the guide is based on has been developed by WWF, Seafood Choices Alliance, North Sea Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society. Fish guides can now be found in 18 countries around the globe.

The ASC on-pack logo was launched in 2012. All ASC labelled products can be traced back through the entire supply chain to a responsible managed fish farm.

Source: Undercurrent News, 9/7/2014

Hong Kong’s fish farms in the sky

Under eerie blue lights designed to simulate the ocean depths, hundreds of fish swim serenely through the bubbling waters of their circular tanks, 15 floors up in the sky.

There are 11 plastic tanks in total, holding a combined 80,000 litres of salt water.

They are full of grouper, a white-fleshed fish, which are all destined to end up on the plates of restaurant-goers across Hong Kong.

This is the scene at Oceanethix, one of the numerous so-called “vertical fish farms” in the special administrative region, which have become a key fixture of its supply chain.

For while most fish farms around the world are at sea, or at least, land level, in Hong Kong it is more often a necessity to put them many floors up in tall buildings.

This is because as one of the most densely populated places in the world, there is simply very little spare space. So fish farms have to fit in where they can.

For the small firms that dominate the industry, it is worth the effort, as Hong Kong has an insatiable appetite for fish and seafood. It consumes more than 70kg (11 stone) per capita every year, 10 times more than in the US.

“We’re way above the hustle and bustle,” jokes Lloyd Moskalik, managing director of Oceanethix, which is based in Hong Kong’s New Territories. “If you like, this is rooftop farming on steroids.”

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His business, which employs six people in Hong Kong, buys in the groupers as baby fish, or fingerlings. They then take between 10 and 13 months to get up to market weight.

Oceanethix sells about two tonnes of groupers to fish wholesalers each week, and Mr Moskalik says he can get as much as 776 Hong Kong dollars ($100; £60) per kilogram.

As demand for farmed fish has soared in the region, wholesale prices have risen at a rate of between 10% and 15% per annum for the past five years.

Oceanethix also sells its water-recycling systems to other companies across Asia setting up similar fish farms in the sky.

“We’ve been selected by the Korean government as part of an ambitious plan to establish vertical farms in multi-story buildings… in Seoul,” says Mr Moskalik.

The Singapore government has also bought a country licence for Oceanethix’s water-recycling systems, and the company has its own sister facility in Shanghai.

Source: BBC 2/4/2014 (read the full article here)