Aquaculture is again in focus in Singapore as the country prepares to scale up local food production against a backdrop of coronavirus-driven disruptions to global supply chains.
Singapore is well known for its fish farming and almost all of the country’s offshore fish farms are located in the waters to its north.
According to Singapore-based The Straits Times, those waters could soon reach maximum production levels and authorities have set their sights on the nation’s southern waters for further aquaculture activity.
Figures from the World Aquaculture Society (WAS) show that local food fish farms in Singapore produce around 10% – thought to be around 4,700 tonnes of fish – of Singapore’s consumption of food fish. Aquaculture in Singapore can be categorised as land-based and sea-based, it explains.
Singapore envisions up to 30% of the production of its nutritional needs to be done locally by 2030, meaning the country’s aquaculture industry needs to transform and adopt technology to raise productivity, strengthen climate resilience and overcome resource constraints. This is considered the long-term backdrop for the renewed focus on aquaculture, while disruptions to supply chains as a result of Covid-19 are a short-term anticipation that both emphasises and accelerates this strategy.
As a city-state that imports more than 90% of its food, Singapore is vulnerable to external shocks and global trends that impact food supply and safety around the world.
To strengthen food security, Singapore is pursuing three broad strategies, also known as the three food baskets. These are ‘Diversify Import Sources’, ‘Grow Local’ and ‘Grow Overseas’.
Aquaculture – dependent on oxygen
Since around 1970, aquaculture has been the fastest growing branch of the global food industry, and around half of the fish supply is now farmed artificially rather than caught in the wild.
Fish farming in closed systems offers an ecologically acceptable alternative to sea-based fish farming. The fish live in artificial ponds, with the water being purified and recycled in a closed loop; there is no impact on natural waters.
Whether it is natural or artificial fish farming, both the business and the very science of aquaculture is dependent on pure oxygen supply. For artificial installations it is not enough to inject air into the water; for sea-based fish farming the level of dissolved oxygen in those waters is just as crucial, to both the health of the fish and also the surrounding marine environment.
To achieve the required oxygen content, the gas is needed in its pure form. Controlling the concentration of oxygen dissolved in water is crucial to the success of aquaculture. Generally speaking, the closer the oxygen concentration is to air saturation, the better the environment will be for healthy and reliable fish growth.
Maintaining the right levels of oxygen improves feed utilisation, shortens the growth period, reduces fish mortality and mitigates the need for vaccination and antibiotics.
For the gases industry, the task is to ensure that the oxygenation systems it supplies keep pace with the dynamics of the industry itself.
Oxygen in Singapore
What Singapore does benefit from is a buoyant industrial gases business, considered one of the most sophisticated in the wider Southeast Asia region.
The commercial gases market in Singapore has experienced good growth over the course of the last decade, according to gasworld Business Intelligence, and a significant pipeline and onsite supply infrastructure exists for a variety of gases including nitrogen and oxygen. Most of these gas production plants are less than 20 years old and generally well maintained.
Oxygen was the second-largest revenue generator for the industry in Singapore in 2018, accounting for around $240m in sales and second only to nitrogen ($340m).