From its beginning in the 1920’s, aquaculture in Malaysia has developed quickly and is now an important activity. Several culture practices are used. Brackish water aquaculture is the predominant practice, but there is also freshwater pond aquaculture and marine aquaculture. A wide variety of species is cultured, including shellfish, freshwater species and marine finfish. Aquaculture is becoming important as a way of increasing local production for food security and increasing export revenues. The sector has become a priority area in the government’s most recent policy programme for 1998-2010. The aim by 2010 is to increase aquaculture production by 200 percent. However, difficulties in land acquisition, rising production costs, lack of skilled labour and threat of diseases are obstacles which impede the development of aquaculture. Research is being given priority due to the importance of aquaculture as an alternative source of fish supply.
Aquaculture in Malaysia began in the 1920’s with extensive polyculture in ex-mining pools of introduced Chinese carps, mainly the bighead carp ( Hypophthalmichthys nobilis ), silver carp ( Hypophthalmichthys molitrix ) and grass carp ( Ctenopharyngodon idellus ). In the mid 1930’s, marine shrimp trapping ponds were first developed in Johore, the southern state of Peninsular Malaysia. In the early 1940’s, the culture of blood cockles (Anadara granosa) began. This was followed in the mid 1950’s by the extensive culture of freshwater fish in earthen ponds.
In the early 1970’s, great changes in aquaculture began to take place, when the semi-intensive culture of shrimp was developed in Johore. Shrimp culture was characterized by very low stocking density combined with pond fertilization. During the same period, floating net cage culture of marine fish, mainly the green grouper (Epinephelus coioides), began to take place, followed by the raft culture of green mussels. By the early 1990’s, aquaculture activities were further enhanced with the introduction of intensive commercial aquaculture with very high stocking density and complete dependence on supplementary feeding. Commercial aquaculture was made possible through the establishment of government and privately owned fish and shrimp hatcheries, which started in the 1980’s. The setting up of private feed mills in the 1980’s also contributed to the commercialization of aquaculture.
The aquaculture sector has recorded an annual growth rate of about 10 percent in the last 5 years. It has now grown into a lucrative and sustainable industry, associated with the culture of high value species, mainly shrimp, marine fish and high value freshwater fish.
In 2004, employment generated from aquaculture was 20 976 (Anon, 2004). About 70 percent are employed in the freshwater pond and concrete tank culture system. This number includes all family members. About 10 percent are involved in the floating net-cage culture in lakes, reservoirs, ex-mining pools and freshwater lagoons, 7 percent in the brackish water and floating net-cage culture in the lagoons and coastal waters, and 6 percent in the brackish water pond culture systems for black tiger shrimp and marine fish hatcheries. About 4 percent are involved in bivalve mollusc culture, namely the blood cockles, green mussel and oyster. The balance of about 3 percent are involved in the culture of seaweeds.
Due to the fact that aquaculture has become a very lucrative enterprise, there has in the last 3-5 years been an increase in the participation of professionals, such as qualified and skilled fish farmers from local and foreign higher institutions, contractors, engineers, lawyers and accountants. However, there is no data to support this claim. There is also quite a significant number of women in the sector, but no data are available. Women are mostly involved in freshwater aquaculture, particularly using cement tank culture. Women are also involved in the hatchery operations for marine fish, shrimp and freshwater fish. Women are estimated to account for about 10 percent of the total aquaculture work force.
Given the long coastline of about 4 780 km, brackish water aquaculture dominates the aquaculture industry in Malaysia, with a total production of 144 189 tonnes, covering an area of 17 357 ha. This constitutes more than 70 percent of the total aquaculture production in 2003 (Anon, 2004). Brackish water aquaculture is characterized by the extensive culture of bivalve molluscs, occupying an area of 7 659 ha, mostly in the western coastal waters where there is an abundance of mud flats suitable for the culture of blood cockles. Land-based earthen ponds have spread throughout the country, with the biggest area in the state of Sabah. They cover a total area of 7 879 ha and are used mainly for the culture of black tiger shrimp and to some extent the pond culture of marine fish (Gopinath and Chin, 1998). The culture of marine fish in floating net-cages in lagoons and sheltered coastal waters occupies an area of 102 ha, and is concentrated mainly in the western coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The hanging method of seaweed culture (1 908 ha) is practiced only in the Sabah waters.
Freshwater aquaculture is predominated by pond culture covering an area of 4 769 ha with a production of 49 951 tonnes. In 2003 this constituted about 30 percent of the total aquaculture production. The cultured area is spread throughout the country, with earthen ponds covering the largest area of 4 769 ha, producing more than 80 percent of the freshwater aquaculture production which comprises mainly the red hybrid tilapia, hybrid walking catfish and climbing perch. Floating net-cage culture of red tilapia and river catfish, the Pangasius and the Mystus, is practiced in lakes, reservoirs and ex-mining pools, occupying an area of 2 734 ha. A small percentage of about 10 percent of the freshwater pond area is used for the polyculture of the Chinese carps, Javanese carp and common carp, and some for river mahseer, snake head, marble goby, arowana and giant freshwater prawns.
The major production of brackish species comprised of 54 percent of bivalve molluscs, mainly the blood cockles (Anadara granosa), followed by shrimps, giant tiger prawns (Penaeus monodon) (17.3 percent) and marine fish (6.3 percent). However, in terms of value of production, black tiger shrimp has continued to be the leading species for the last 5 years at a value of USD 160 186. Black tiger shrimp is endemic and found in the waters of Malaysia. The exotic whiteleg shrimp, ( Penaeus vannamei ), introduced from the Pacific sometime in 1995, began production in 2001 when the marine shrimp production showed a sharp increase of almost 70 percent compared to 2000. Malaysia has also an indigenous white shrimp, Peneaus merguiensis, but it is not yet commercialized. Blood cockles are endemic to Malaysia, particularly in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The green mussel, oyster and tiger prawns are also endemic in Malaysian waters. All of the marine fish species are endemic, but some of the seeds are imported from Taiwan P.C. and Thailand. The local hatcheries are now capable of producing fry and fingerlings, but the supply is still inadequate. Research into seed production of barramundi (Lates calcarifer) was initiated by the Fisheries Research Institute in 1982 (Ali, 1987). The culture of barramundi (Lates calcarifer) in floating net-cages started in the 1980’s and became commercialized in the mid 1990’s (Hussin et al, (1996).
Of the commercially cultured freshwater species, Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), which was first introduced in 1944 from Indonesia (Ang et al, 1989), accounts for 44.7 percent of the total freshwater aquaculture production, followed by catfish (36.7 percent) and carps (10.08 percent). In terms of value of production, tilapia contributes 49.37 percent, followed by catfish (37 percent) and carps (10 percent). In terms of value, red tilapia yields the highest value of USD 27 million. The black nile tilapia, which was introduced in the 1950’s, did not augur well, due to its colour compared with the red hybrid tilapia which was introduced from Thailand some time in 1979 (Ang, et al, 1989). The success in producing all male tilapia under the GIFT (genetically improved fish tilapia) programme with collaboration from the World Fish Centre in 2001, marked the beginning of commercial culture of all males or monosex tilapia which has a wide body conformation, thus yielding higher productivity.
Most of the carps which are cultured, such as the Chinese carps, Javanese carps and the Indian carps, were introduced by the British in the early 1950’s. However, Indian carps did not last long as they compete with the Chinese carps and their appearance is inferior to that of the Chinese carps. Among the river carps, only the sultan fish and the mahseer are endemic. The Pangasius was introduced from Thailand in the 1980’s and was successfully induced bred in captivity (Thalathiah and Hamilah, 1983; Thalathiah and Hamilah, 1986). The success in gonadal maturation in captivity followed by induced breeding and mass seed production (Thalathiah et al, 1988) resulted in the increased capacity by local hatcheries to produce various freshwater fish seeds to supply the local aquaculture industry. The catfish that is widely cultured now is the hybrid between Clarius batrachus, which is indigenous, and Clarias gariepinus, an exotic African catfish which was introduced in the early 1980’s. The success in the induced breeding and seed production of the local walking catfish (Thalathiah, 1986) and the African catfish (Thalathiah and Ibrahim, 1992) paved the way for commercial seed production of the hybrid catfish.
At the beginning of the intensive culture era, there was very little knowledge of the sustainability of aquaculture and responsible aquaculture. This resulted in huge losses due to disease (Shariff and Subasinghe, 1993) and poor management. Open flow through culture systems in ponds and cement tanks were common before the 90’s because of the abundant water supply in all areas. The introduction of closed-recirculating culture system technology in the 1990’s was not well received by the fish farmers, because the system is costly and has high operating costs. Only government hatcheries can afford the high cost of the culture system. The apparent disease problems plaguing the black tiger intensive culture in the 1990’s paved the way for the closed system of pond culture with minimal water exchange. The success of the closed system in Thailand and other neighbouring countries in the region was also a mean to promote the closed culture system in black tiger shrimp farming.
In 1990, production from aquaculture was 52 302 tonnes. By 1994, production had doubled to 114 114 tonnes. In 2003, aquaculture production was at 194 139 tonnes at a value of USD 308 million - about 20 percent of the total value of the fisheries production in Malaysia. Brackish water species accounted for more than 70 percent of the total aquaculture production in terms of value and quantity. Of these, blood cockles recorded the highest production, followed by marine shrimp and other freshwater species, such as tilapia, carps and catfish, as well as marine fish. Cockles account for almost 50 percent of the total brackish water aquaculture production, and about 37 percent of the annual aquaculture production. However, marine shrimp accounted for the highest value of production, with about 65 percent of the total value of brackish water aquaculture production, and 52 percent of the total value of aquaculture production in 2003. Marine and brackish water aquaculture production recorded an increase of more than 20 percent in comparison to production in 2002. Freshwater aquaculture production, however, only recorded an increase of about 7 percent in comparison with production in 2002.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Malaysia according to FAO statistics:
Aquaculture produce is marketed to the wholesalers who also act as traders. Most of the freshwater aquaculture production such as the walking catfish, climbing perch (Anabas testudineus), tilapia, giant freshwater prawn, Chinese carps, river carps and river catfish are marketed locally for domestic consumption. There is no price control scheme at farm and ex-farm. Farm prices depend a lot on supply and demand. Some fish, such as the marble goby, giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii), tilapia, walking catfish, snakehead and marine fish fetch quite a consistent price, whereas the price for the marine shrimp fluctuates depending on the world market price.
Some of the marine fishes such as the barramundi, groupers, crabs, black tiger prawns, whiteleg shrimps and some freshwater fishes are exported to Singapore, Taiwan P.C., China and Hong Kong. Black tiger prawns and whiteleg shrimp are exported either block frozen or as value added products to the EU, Japan, USA and Australia. It can be presumed that almost all of the cultured black tiger produced is processed for the export market. Malaysia also imports marine fish fry and fingerlings as well as fishmeal. There is no data on aquaculture produce being processed for the local and export market. The value of exports in 2003 was about USD 100 million.
For the export market, products must be processed and packaged in HACCP certified processing plants administered by the Ministry of Health Malaysia, which is the agency responsible for food safety. In addition, products exported to the EU must first obtain an EU number issued by the Ministry of Health. The number must be labelled on every package of the consignment.
Aquaculture is becoming economically more important as a way of increasing local fish production for food security. Aquaculture production is still very small compared to capture fisheries: it contributes less than 0.2 percent to GDP. However, it has succeeded in producing high value species for the domestic market as well as for the export market. This aspect is capitalized on in the poverty alleviation programme involving the very poor to improve their household income. The culture of bivalve molluscs is the easiest with few overheads and has proved very successful among the poor households in coastal areas. Seaweed culture in Sabah has proved to be very successful in improving the livelihood of the poor fishermen because the produce is sold in a dried form and exported to the Philippines. In the inland area, the farming of tilapia in earthen ponds through government - assisted projects has been very successful among the poor households because it breeds naturally. Culture in floating net-cages in lakes and reservoirs through government-assisted projects, has also proved to be successful and likely to improve livelihoods, as well as providing a cheap source of protein.
The development of aquaculture is under the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DoF) as stipulated under the Fisheries Act 1985. The DoF is one of eleven federal agencies under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry (MOABI), and one of the four agencies responsible for the promotion of aquaculture development. The DoF is headed by a director-general, and each of the fourteen states in the Malaysian federation is headed by a state director. The MOABI is managed by a minister and administered by a chief secretary who is responsible for the overall performance of the aquaculture sector together with the director-general of fisheries.
The DoF Malaysia is responsible for developing and managing the aquaculture sector through the establishment of policies, legislation, strategies and action plans. The marketing and trade of aquaculture produce is under the Malaysian Fisheries Development Authority (MFDA), which is a sister agency and one of the agencies under Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry. The role of the MFDA is to increase the livelihood of the fishermen through aquaculture activities as well as regulating the marketing of fishery and aquaculture produce. The MFDA is also responsible for regulating international trade by issuing import and export licenses.
Malaysian fisheries are governed by the Fisheries Act No.317 (1985) and its regulations. Inland fisheries and aquaculture regulations are issued by State authorities, whereas marine fisheries and aquaculture are a federal concern. Unfortunately, neither the Kedah State Fisheries (Riverine) Rules (1990) nor the Perak State Fisheries (Riverine) Rules (1992) make any provision on aquaculture .
The main fisheries authority at federal level is the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry (MOA). With regard to aquaculture, the Director-General of Fisheries, head of the Fisheries Department, is vested with orientation powers for the development of marine and inland farming, in consultation with the concerned State Authority. In particular, the promotion of inland aquaculture may involve the creation of experimental aquaculture stations for demonstrative purposes, fish-breeding facilities and training centres.
An important actor in the development of the national maritime policy is the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA), a policy research institute set-up by the Malaysian Government to specifically deal with national, regional and global maritime issues. The Freshwater Fisheries Research Centre operates within the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, for the development of freshwater aquaculture, and the conservation and management of aquatic resources.
For more information on aquaculture legislation in Malaysia please click on the following link:
National Aquaculture Legislation Overview – Malaysia
Applied aquaculture research is carried out by the Fisheries Research Institute (FRI) of the DoF, the University of Agriculture Malaysia and University of Science Malaysia. The FRI has three research centres: for brackish water, freshwater and marine water species. Most of the applied research undertaken is concentrated on gonadal maturation, breeding techniques, seed production, nutrition, fish diseases and production technologies both in ponds and in cages.
Aquaculture is only taught in higher institutions at diploma and degree level. Training in aquaculture is currently under the purview of the Human Resource Division, DoF Malaysia. Basic and advanced training in all fields of aquaculture is conducted at the three training centres of the Department, providing training in brackish water, freshwater and marine aquaculture. To date, a total of about 50 000 people have been trained in various fields of aquaculture.
Due to the importance of aquaculture as an alternative source of fish supply, as well as increasing export revenues, a National Agriculture Training Institute was established in 2003. The Institute is a conglomerate of the three basic fields: aquaculture, agriculture and livestock. The current training centres under the DoF, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Veterinary Services are amalgamated under the Institute. Degree, diploma and certificate level of training is provided by this Institute, which incorporates the fundamental aspects of the safety of workers
Aquaculture has been identified as one of the critical activities to ensure food security since the Seventh Malaysia Plan (1996-2000). Further impetus was given to enhancing aquaculture development as the third engine of growth in the Eighth Malaysia Plan (2001-2005). Aquaculture has also been identified as a potential important export earner after oil palm and rubber. Compared with other agricultural sectors such as oil palm, rubber, paddy, fruits and vegetables, aquaculture is one of the most productive in terms of income per hectare per annum and return to investment.
In order to chart the development of the Malaysian agriculture sector, the government formulated the first National Agriculture Policy (NAP) in the early 1980’s. In the third NAP (1998-2010), the promotion of sustainable aquaculture development is one of the priorities, where the aim is to increase aquaculture production to 600 000 tonnes by 2010, an increase of about 200 percent from the current production of 200 000 tonnes.
Aquaculture expansion requires land. Although more than 400 000 ha of land and inland water bodies have been identified as suitable for aquaculture, competition with other economic activities makes land acquisition very difficult. Since 2004, agriculture, including aquaculture development, has been given top priority by the government to ensure food security and to reduce the food import bill. In order to overcome the land issue, an Aquaculture Industrial Zone (AIZ) was set up as part of the permanent food production zones by the state governments as a measure to ensure that sufficient land is allocated for aquaculture development. About 40 000 ha are now allocated to aquaculture development by the states which are awaiting investment.
In addition, rising production costs, lack of skilled labour, threat of diseases, and food safety and quality of aquaculture produce have become issues which are making aquaculture development difficult.
Aquaculture products have been identified as the commodity which can contribute towards increasing export revenues. Food safety of aquaculture products has become the most important criteria as stipulated under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreements. The issue of prohibited antibiotic residues in aquaculture products, particularly shrimp, has caused huge losses when consignments for export found to be contaminated are rejected and destroyed. Recently, environmental and social aspects have also been used as additional criteria, in addition to food safety as a mark for sustainable aquaculture produce.
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