AQUARIUM FISH INDUSTRY IN MALAYSIA
INTRODUCTION Aquarium or ornamental fish are called the "living jewels" due to their diversity of species, great variety of colour, shape, behaviour and origin. All these factors determine their value in the market. The keeping of ornamental fish is a hobby with world-wide interest. Globally, the retail value of this industry was estimated about RM20 billion. However, if all other aquarium systems and accessories including feeds, drugs and aquatic plants put together their retail value was estimated to be about RM100 billion. In Malaysia, aquarium fish trade started in the 1950's within the southern state of Johor initially, the activity was mainly limited to the collection of fish from the wild for subsequent distribution to Singapore, which began to export fish to Europe in the late 1940's. THE POTENTIAL OF THE INDUSTRY Signicant development of aquarium fish farms only began in the 1980's. Today, there are more than 400 farms, 90% of these produce ornamental fishes, and about 10% produce natural feed and aquatic plants. The potential for further expansion of the industry in Malaysia is enormous. Various support services and fiscal incentives are provided by the government to promote the development of the industry. Ornamental Fish In 1993, it was estimated that 188 million pieces of ornamental fish were produced valued at about RM33.65 million. This comprised of more than 250 species of mostly freshwater species. The industry contiuned to grow rapidly at a very fast rate. By 1995 the production had increased by more than 30% to 253 million valued at RM49.13 million. Aquatic Plants In addition to the great diversity of ichthyofauna, Malaysia is also blessed with its rich resources of aquatic plants which could be easily propagated for ornamental purposes. The Indo-Malayan region has more species of aquatic plants than in any other region of the world. More than 30 species have been identified suitable for ornamentaal purposes. Some of these species are rather unique and are in greatt demand in the international market. Currently most of farms producing aquatic plants are located in Johor. The production technique currently employed is vegetative propagation. However with the application of new technology such as tissue culture technique, propagation of these plants can be turned into highly profitable venture. Aquarium Systems and Accessories Besides the production of ornamental fish and aquatic plants, Malaysia has also the necessary resource, expertise and technology to manufacture aquarium systems and related accessorries. They include aquarium tanks, water filteration systems, pumps, aerators, lighting, water heating systems and water sterilisation equipment. Aquarium Fish Feed With the large quantity of ornamental fish being produced, the requirement of feed is also large. Aquarium fish feed also form a sizeable proportion of the overall trade. Although there are farms in this country which produce natural aquarium feed, the number and output are still small. Drugs and Chemicals In addition to the manufacture of feed, the aquarium fish industry also uses a variety of drugs andd chemicals for treatments. Even though most of these products are presently imported, there exists ample scope for the production of these products locally. Export and Import In tandem with the development of ornamental fish farms, there has been a significant increase in the export of ornamental fish from Malaysia in the last feew years. Within the five year period, from 1991 to 1995, export had significantly incrreased from 101.4 million pieces valued at RM14.8 million to 175.6 million pieces in 1994 valued at RM25.9 million, an increase of more than 150%. However, the exporrt in 1995 had decreased slightly to 164.8 million pieces valued at RM23.8 million. Ornamental Fish farming is largely an export oriented industry. It was estimated that about 96% of ornamental fish produced in this country are exported. Farming As mentioned earlier the aquarium fish industry in Malaysia gained prominence in the 1980's, with the development of farms specially for the production of ornamental fishes. For example, there were only 18 farms in Johor in 1980. By 1988, this figure has increased to 35, covering a total area of 217 ha. The number of farms in Peninsular Malaysia in 1995 totalled 340. More than 90% on the farms are located in Johor. Out of this total, 314 farms were directly involved in fish breeding, 13 in the production of aquatic plants and 13 in the production of natural feed for aquarium fish. There is a certain degree of specialisation in thee production of ornamental fishes between the differrent states in Malaysia. While farms in the state of Penang place greater emphasis on the breeding of Discus Symhosodon Discus, the breeders in Perak tend to focus on producing varieties of goldfish and Japanese Koi Carps. A greater proportion of ornamental fish species bred are not indigenous to this country. In spite of the rich diversity of local fish fauna, very few species have in fact been commercially exploited through natural propagation in captivity. Efforts towards the propagation of indigenous species for ornamental fish trade have however been inttensified in the last few years. For example, there has been successful breeding of a number of ornamental fish species, both exotic and indigenous. It should be stressed thatt the aquarium fish trade in Malaysia is almost exclusively made up of freshwater fish species. Successful attempts on the propagation of marine fish species for ornamental purposes are few, if any at all. With the emphasis on conservation gaining importance, exploitation of coral fish speciees in their natural habitats is prohibited. Lately, there has been significant development in the production of ornamental aquatic plants and natural feed for aquarium fish. Farms specialising in the production of these commodities have spring up in the State of Johor. Export Regulations Since aquarium fish were exported live and consignment sizes werre generally small. Exporters were often faced with insurmountable difficulties, eg. congestion at the custom officers delayed clearing by several hours casuing massive mortalities. Recognising the problems, the Department of Fisheries liaised with the Royal Customs and Excise Department. As a result a simplified procedure was established on 2 May 1988 specifically for the tradee. The new systems requires licensed exporters to make an appliocation to the Department of Fisherries. Upon verifying the application the Department then issues an export permit which is valid for one month. The exporter then presents the export permit together with invoices at the payable and makes an endorsement on the back page of the permit. The permit can be used a number of times until the quantity permitted or its validity is exhausted. In addition, custom officers would give priority to aquarium fish exporters to avoid lengthy delays. Consequently the local air freight has also given flexible loading time to forwarding agents, that is cargo can be checked in 2 hours before departure time. Recently, more cargo space was createed, hence allowing greater passage of ornamental fish from Malaysia to all over the world. This capacity will be greatly enhanced with the completion of Malaysia's new modern international airport at Sepang. Support Development of the aquarium fish industry is in line with the strrategies adopted under the National Agriculture Policy (1996-2000), which is now under review. The main objective of the Policy is to maximise income from agriculture through efficient utilisation of the country's resources and revitalisation of the sector's contribution to the national economy. It calls for the development of aquaculture, aquarium fish included. Augment local supply as well as to cater for the export market. The government through its various agencies, have formulated policies and implemented programmes towards stimulating the growth of this industry mainly comes under the purview of the Department of Fisheries. The Department has thus geared itself towards providing the necessary support to the industry. Among these include: Research Production of new varieties of fish is paramount to the further expansion of the industry. It rrenders the local industry a competitive edge in the international market. In addition, development of bettter handling and transportation techniques are necessary in reducing the operational costs. Realising his importance, the Department of Fisheries is actively carrying out research programmes on aquarium fish. A special aquarium research unit was set up at its Freshwater Fisheries Centre, Batu Berendam, Melaka to conduct research on various disciplines and nutrition. At present the centre is experimenting on at least 70 aquarium fish species, both indigenous and exotic. The establishment of research infrastructure specifically for aquarium fish is planned under the Seventh Malaysia Plan (1996-2000). Extension Services In an effort its to disseminate aaquarium fish farming technologies, the Department of Fisheries maintains a comprehensive network of field extension agents around the country. These agents are supported by a network of Aquaculture Extension Centres, which provide back-up services in soil and water quality analysis, disease diagnostics and general advice on culture management. The Department also publishees articles/materials pertaining to the industry for distribution to the target group. The Department has also organised and participated in exhibitions on aquarium fish, both local and international. Prior projects at farmers' plots are also initiated to deemonstrate new techniques in aquarium fish farming. Training Various typees of training on aquarium fish are provided by the Department. These include the formal 2-week training course conducted several times a year at its Inland Fisheries Training Centre, Enggor, Perak. In addition, attachment training at its research centre in Melaka and at successful aquarium fish farms are arranged for interested individuals. Study visits to successful farms are also organised to expose the public to the industry. Quarantine and Fish Health Centres Four Quarantine and Fish Health Centres are being established under the Sixth and Seventh Malaysia Plan (1991-2000). The Centres are locateed at the major entry/ exit points, naamely: Subang Internatinal Airport (Selangor), Tampoi (Johor), Batu Maung (Pulau Pinang) and Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah). All the centres are alreaady operational except for in Kedah. In aaddition, there will be aa new quarantine centre at the new Kuala Lumpur Inteernational Airport in Sepang which will be fully operational in 1998. The main objective for the establishment of these centres is to safeguard the local fish industry from inadvertent importation of harmful fish pathogens which can cause epidemics. At the same time, these centres are designed to act as one-stop centres providing, services pertaining to live fish export/imports and decease diagnostics. Among these include the inssuance of export permits and the relevent fish health certificates. Regular sanitary inspections of aquarium premises as required by the importing countries, are also performed by these centres. Future Outlook It is evident that the aquarium fish industry in Malaysia is experiencing rapid growth. In contrast to the scenario a few years back, the industry is now more widespread. Malaysia has the necessary ingredients to develop the industry to its full potentials. It should take advantage of the limitations in labour costs and land resource facing by the traditional exporting contrries, to provide greater support to the industry. Provision of better infrastructures especially in the export of aquarium fash is imperative. Efforts should also be focused on seeking direct international markets for the local aquarium fish. This od course can be achieved with the opening of the new airport in Sepang in 1998. Support services should also be intensified and given due attention.