Singapore scaling towards zero food waste in fish farming

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It is no fishy business to say that from the moment a fish is harvested to the time it lands on your plate, about 30 percent of it would have been lost as waste. With today’s affluence and preference for the convenience of a fish fillet, this proportion can sometimes double.

Written by: Judith Tan and Vanessa Liu /

“A filleted fish is easier to store and freeze if you do not plan to eat it on the same day. It is easier and faster to prepare, as well as easier and faster to eat since there is no need to worry about bones. Today’s consumers want this convenience,” says Mr. Malcolm Ong, chief executive of fishery company The Fish Farmer.

Mr Ong, 57, started to work last year with Hai Sia Seafood, one of the largest seafood processors in Singapore, to have the grey mullet, one of the species he farms off the coast of Lim Chu Kang, processed into fillets and sold at supermarkets such as FairPrice.

According to The Fish Farmer’s website, grey mullet is an oil-rich fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. Its meat is of a medium to firm texture and has a rich, distinctive flavour.

The fish can be prepared in many ways – including steaming, grilling and pan-frying – and is a favourite among Teochews.

For Mr Ong, it makes business sense to send 3,000kg of mullet a day to Hai Sia Seafood to be filleted, but it worried him to see the offcuts, comprising the head, bones, trimmings and the rest of the meat, being thrown away.

“The fillet is just meat. It makes up only 40 per cent of the entire fish. So the rest of the fish – 60 per cent – would have been thrown away. These are perfectly good parts of the fish,” he says.

Food waste is one of the biggest waste streams in Singapore, and the amount of food wastage generated has ballooned by about 20 per cent over the past 10 years.

The National Environment Agency estimates that 40 per cent of food waste generated here is from the commercial and industrial sectors that handle fish, other seafood and vegetables.

Last year alone saw around 744 million kg of food wasted. That is equivalent to two bowls of rice a person a day, or the weight of about 50,000 double-decker buses.

A study by the Singapore Environment Council and consultancy firm Deloitte Singapore last year found that the fish and seafood sector contributed the second-largest volume of food loss, at about 25,000 tonnes a year.

According to market and consumer data provider Statista, more than 125,000 tonnes of seafood was imported to Singapore, and approximately 5,340 tonnes was produced here last year. About 124,200 tonnes was consumed, translating to about 21kg a person.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore’s head of market transformation Stefanie Beitien says how food is produced and consumed is the biggest threat to the planet today.

Despite the high environmental cost of food production, a third of all food produced goes to waste.

“Seafood supply chains are often long and complex, spanning businesses across fisheries, aquaculture, suppliers, retailers and end consumers. Food loss and waste happens at every stage across this value chain, so any measure that reduces the distance between farm to fork helps,” Ms Beitien says.

Proper processing methods, access to good storage facilities and improved cold chain management prevent food loss and waste, she says.

At farm level, sustainable aquaculture production practices that minimise environmental impact and enhance efficient use of resources can contribute to higher survival rates of farmed fish.

“Companies along the seafood supply chain should set targets that track and measure food waste from source through point of sale.

“Addressing food waste, in turn, reduces pressure on natural resources while increasing productivity and decreasing price volatility,” Ms Beitien says.

WWF-Singapore is working with businesses across the seafood industry here to help them adopt sustainable sourcing practices and improve overall industry standards, she says.

As early as 2016, businesses such as retailers, restaurants, hotels and seafood suppliers came together with WWF-Singapore to crowdsource industry solutions at a Sustainable Seafood Business Forum.

The same forum also kick-started the Responsible Seafood Group, comprising local industry leaders such as logistics operator Global Oceanlink and integrated resort Marina Bay Sands.

Working with WWF-Singapore, they commit to responsible sourcing standards and pave the way for the rest of the industry to follow suit.

Says Ms Beitien says: “Restaurateurs, retailers and the F&B (food and beverage) industry have influence over shaping consumer preferences. As ‘nose to tail’ and ‘root to stem’ cooking are already popular culinary concepts, the ‘fin to gill’ approach can be easily adopted by the seafood industry.

“The industry can create products with offcuts, such as broth or chowder. Even non-valuable fish can be turned into soap, glycerol or fertilisers.

“Shell waste from crabs, shrimps and krill are the main sources for the extraction of chitin and chitosan, which are used in the biomedical, cosmetic and food industries.”


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