The Straits Times: Grow crabs at home

Learn how to farm crustaceans and more as interest in aquaculture grows in Singapore

May 14, 2021

Grow crabs at home

Learn how to farm crustaceans and more as interest in aquaculture grows in Singapore

Blue Aqua International president Farshad Shishehchian launched Doctor Shrimp Academy last month in partnership with Temasek Polytechnic to train people in aquaculture and shrimp farming (above). ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Eunice Quek

PUBLISHED MAY 16, 2021, 5:00 AM SGT

For $500, you can now attend a four-hour crash course on becoming an amateur crab farmer.

You get a seven-tier StackquaCulture system – made from stackable Toyogo boxes – along with tools and equipment such as pumps and ultraviolet sterilisers.

Three mud crabs, three flower crabs, mussels and prawns are provided as well. The crabs eat the mussels, while the prawns function as cleaners.

If you are patient, a 200g crab can grow up to 2kg in about a year.

Mr Shannon Lim, 35, founder of urban farm OnHand Agrarian, started the monthly courses in March to make crab farming accessible to the public and 12 people have attended this course so far.

The farm, established in 2011, also offers subscription boxes for seafood (from $80 a month for 3kg) and vegetables (from $60 a month for 5kg). Sales doubled during the pandemic last year.

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Mr Lim, a former financial planner who studied New Media at Republic Polytechnic, hopes to grow the community of aquaculture enthusiasts.

Of his five local employees, two have a background in aquaculture, two are environmental scientists and one is an engineer.

He says: “Eventually, I want to build a farming community and have a group of experts to share knowledge. Talent and expertise may be hard to find, but you have passionate people who are eager to learn. It’s good for people to know where their food comes from.”

Interest in aquaculture is growing. Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal – to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030 – has also put the sector in the spotlight.

Recently, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) announced that it will pump $23 million into 12 research projects – of which eight are focused on aquaculture – to boost Singapore’s food security.

They include optimising feeds for local red snapper aquaculture and developing innovative strategies for disease management in aquaculture.

Mr Melvin Chow, senior director of SFA’s food supply resilience division, tells The Sunday Times the agency is already working with the aquaculture sector to strengthen food security.

Farms keen to adopt advanced farming systems can tap the agency’s Agri-food Cluster Transformation Fund, launched last month, for co-funding support.

SFA is also reviewing farm practices to enhance business resilience and will be launching new sea space tenders in the next few years.

HUNT FOR TALENT AND EXPERTISE

But industry players note that the right talent and expertise are still lacking.

More than just seafood farming, aquaculture has to be supported by various other sectors, says Dr Lee Chee Wee, director of Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) Aquaculture Innovation Centre. These include nutrition, genetics, water and waste management, food processing and logistics – all areas which require a skilled workforce.

Dr Lee adds: “High production costs and space constraints are major challenges. One way to boost profitability is to increase productivity via technology adoption.”

The goal for his centre, he says, is to develop super-intensive farming systems that suit the local environment, besides developing better feed, disease control and water management.

In a bid to train people in aquaculture and shrimp farming, Blue Aqua International group – a solution provider for the aquaculture industry – launched Doctor Shrimp Academy last month in partnership with TP.

The group has been working with TP since 2016, hiring the school’s students as interns to gain practical work experience in its farms.

Courses start in July. Besides local students, Blue Aqua president Farshad Shishehchian, 55, is expecting those from Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Thailand,
Ecuador and Brazil. Aged 20 to 45, participants will include experienced shrimp farmers and fresh graduates.

Dr Shishehchian says: “With the rising importance for food security, we realised there is a huge education gap in technical and practical skills for farming in Singapore.”

The academy offers official and professional accreditation to participants. An advanced course gives students with experience in shrimp farming a three-month farm practicum at Blue Aqua’s farm in Lim Chu Kang.

Other courses – Fundamentals In Shrimp Farming, Biosecurity And Health Management, and Entrepreneurship In Shrimp Farming – are designed for people with no background in farming.

Blue Aqua, established in 2009, has a presence in 13 countries, including the United States, Oman and Indonesia.
Its locally farmed antibiotic-free fish and shrimp are sold at FairPrice Xtra and Finest outlets.

At Doctor Shrimp Academy, there is also a clinic and laboratory that work with shrimp farmers to provide disease diagnostic tests. An upcoming e-commerce platform (doctorshrimp.com) will offer aqua feeds, equipment and academic resources.

EDUCATION AND JOB PROSPECTS

At TP, its part-time Diploma in Applied Science (Aquaculture) course sees a steady annual intake of about 20 students.

Career prospects include jobs as farm technicians at food fish or ornamental fish farms and aquarists at marine conservation parks. Entrepreneurship opportunities are also possible.

Other institutions offering aquaculture education include Republic Polytechnic(RP) and James Cook University (JCU) Singapore, which have recently updated their programmes.

RP launched its Diploma in Marine Science and Aquaculture in 2014, which it no longer offers. From this year, students who want to study aquaculture can take its Diploma in Environmental & Marine Science.

Two specialisation tracks in Environmental Management And Technology or Aquaculture Technology are offered in the second year to prepare graduates for roles in developing sustainable environmental and aquaculture solutions.

JCU Singapore’s new Bachelor of Science (Majoring in Aquaculture Science and Technology) had its first intake in March this year. The school also offers a Bachelor of Business and Environmental Science (Majoring in Aquaculture).

JCU Singapore chief commercial officer Andrew Chew, 40, says: “For the aquaculture major, we see a significant increase year on year by as much as 100 per cent. I am confident we will continue to witness an upward trajectory in demand for these programmes in the coming years.”

JCU Singapore also runs research hub Tropical Futures Institute.

Its director, Professor Dean Jerry, 49, says: “Aquaculture now provides 50 per cent of global seafood, yet not many people really understand what it is and what the potential job opportunities are.

“A whole chain of professionals needs to be trained to support the industry. There will be an increased demand for such professional capabilities as aquaculture rapidly evolves from a low-tech industry to one driven by technology and innovative solutions.”

Mr Chow adds that SFA has been working closely with tertiary institutes such as RP and TP as well as farms to develop programmes to equip students and job seekers with the skill sets for a career in aquaculture.

“By 2030, we expect about 4,700 jobs to be created and upskilled in the agri and aqua-tech food industry,” he says.

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