Reaping the rewards of aquaculture
New Straits Times
5 June 2005

Having dabbled in the timber and oil palm industries, marine biologist Datuk Lo Fui Ming decided to put his live savings into aquaculture and today, he is harvesting his rewards.

Two years ago he struck gold by successfully breeding tiger grouper fry because an adult Tiger grouper fetched RM100 to RM200 in the export market.

"At the time, if given a choice between a Ferrari and that baby fish, I'll take that fish anytime," said the entrepreneur whose company, Borneo Aqua Harvest, runs a successful industry breeding fish and fry and exporting them to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Apart from the tiger grouper, the company also rears coral trout or chee sing pan or tung sin ban as well as the barred knife jaw, a popular species in Japan and South Korea with a wholesale price of about RM200 a kg.

The company is also working on commercially producing other types of prized species found in Sabah such as the mouse grouper, giant grouper and red snapper.

Declining to reveal the numbers, Lo said that his breeding programme produced hundreds of thousands of fish.

"The market opportunity in the fisheries industry is tremendous. People are willing to pay a high price for good quality fish and the world population is growing by the day," he said.

The company, since it began operations in 2001, runs a full-scale hatchery on a 12-hectare site at Kampung Sungai Kayu, near the airport here, apart from maintaining two other sites, each about six hectares, at Pulau Berhala and Pulau Bai off here.

The hatcheries keep fish brood stock in cages that are built in the sea.

In the hatcheries, there are close to 100 holding tanks where fish fry are kept until they grow to a certain size after which they are transferred to bigger cages. In each holding tank there are about 2,000 to 3,000 fish fry.

"I left the timber industry more than a decade ago to start up the plantation. But now even oil palm has limitations, particularly in terms of land acquisition. The sea is different, especially here in Sabah where we have perfect conditions," he said.

"We are dedicated to research and development and work closely with aqua culture experts from South Korea, Japan and Taiwan."

Lo believes that Sabah has an advantage in the industry with its vast natural resources and geographical location.

"We are not too far behind from the Far Eastern countries; our operational costs are not high and the climate is the same throughout the year," he said.

"For about four months during winter, operations are halted in other fish-producing countries. Here, we go full steam all year long.

"From the time the eggs hatch, we can produce a marketable size fish in about eight months. In other countries, it takes about a year."