Fish farms reeling from impact of oil spill off Johor

Fish farms reeling from impact of oil spill off Johor

Farm owners say their losses could rise if surviving fish are found to be unfit for consumption.

SINGAPORE: At a fish farm north of Pulau Ubin, workers panicked on Wednesday (Jan 4) when they saw what was meant to be their Chinese New Year harvest turn belly-up in the water.

The farm, owned by Gills N Claws, told Channel NewsAsia it lost about 1,000 fish, after a nearby vessel collision the day before saw about 300 tonnes of oil spill into the sea. Gills N Claws said the oil seeped into its nets containing fish such as red snappers, pearl groupers and silver pomfret.


Gills N Claws' farm manager, Steven Wong, holds up a fish covered in oil. (Photo: Winnie Goh)

"Our workers scrambled to put up canvasses outside the floating platforms provided by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA)," said Gills N Claws' head of operations, Winston Siv Raj. "But 70 per cent of the fish meant to be sold in time for Chinese New Year have died."

The farm also breeds crabs and lobsters. These too were found coated in engine oil, as were the green mussels grown as food for the lobsters. Farm manager Steven Wong lifted ropes on which the mussels were growing, only to find them caked with oily sludge.


The green mussels that Gills N Claws breeds as food supply for lobsters is covered in oil. (Photo: Winnie Goh)

When Channel NewsAsia arrived at the farm, staff from AVA and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) were on the scene, with AVA officials packing a red snapper and some mussels for tests at their laboratory.

Mr Raj said estimates the damage could run up to S$700,000, as the company also needs to change all its fish nets and floats, as well as supporting anchor points and connecting ropes that were ruined by the oil.

"This does not include the fish and lobsters that survived. The figures could change drastically if the AVA finds that the lobsters and fish taken for lab tests are unfit for consumption," he said.


Oil dredged from the water at 2 Jays fish farm (Photo: Vanessa Lim)

Other fish farms are still trying to assess their losses. At a farm owned by 2 Jays, the surface of the water surrounded by netting was coated with a thick layer of black oil and the air smelled of diesel.

Workers were throwing large cloth pads into the water in a bid to soak up the oil, but beyond that, they were unable to do much.

Its operations manager Timothy Ng said his workers could not check their fish stocks without lifting the nets. However if they did, they would risk killing more fish, as the surviving fish could choke on the oil floating on top if they came near the surface, he said. To prevent fish from suffocating in this fashion, workers were also instructed not to feed them.

The co-owner of Farm 85 Aquaculture, Andrew Sim, meantime, was at a loss for words, gazing out at his oil-coated fish pens. “I don’t know what to do … It's too much already."

The oily mess at 2 Jays fish farm (Photo: Vanessa Lim)

SALE OF FISH AT 3 FARMS SUSPENDED

AVA had said on Wednesday that two farms saw fish deaths due to the oil spill and that up to 200kg of fish had died.

On Thursday, it said more farms were found to have tainted nets and structures, compared to the day before due to tidal movement. It has issued oil absorbent pads and canvas to 22 farmers closest to the oil spill site to help protect their fish stock.

Aside from the two farms however, "most of the farms in the same area did not report fish mortality,” said Dr Leong Hon Keong, group director of AVA’s Technology and Industry Development Group. "There is minimal impact to supply. Nevertheless, AVA will continue to monitor the situation and assist the fish farmers, including assisting in clean-up efforts."

As a precautionary measure, AVA has collected fish samples for food safety tests and will continue to do so, it said. The authority also issued orders to three farms to suspend sales of fish until food safety evaluations are complete.

A total of 17 vessels and more than 220 personnel have been mobilised for a massive clean-up in the wake of the oil spill, MPA said. Changi Beach was also partially closed on Wednesday as a safety precaution.

Additional reporting by Vanessa Lim.

Source: CNA/mo