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.
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.
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.
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.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Malaysia according to FAO statistics:
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.
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.
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
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
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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