Myanmar-born fish farmer, 39, graduates with aquaculture polytechnic diploma in Singapore

Farm manager Soe Pyae Kyaw, 39, with his polytechnic diploma in aquaculture and a red snapper at The Fish Farmer fish farm. - ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): Soe Pyae Kyaw, 39, who hails from Myanmar, stumbled into fish farming four years after working as a seafood deliveryman in Singapore.

In 2019, when the manager at the Changi fish farm he was working for left, Soe was thrust into managing the coastal farm.

While doing deliveries for the farm previously, he had assisted the former manager when needed. But managing an entire farm and overseeing four staff members were new to Mr Soe, who had been a delivery driver in Myanmar.

The 2ha coastal fish farm off Changi – which produces red snapper, sea bass and golden pomfret – is one of four farms under local aquaculture firm The Fish Farmer.

“I was happy to take on a different role as the farm needed manpower. But I didn’t understand the fishes, how they ate, and how to take care of them. I learnt from the internet and colleagues, but that was not enough for me,” said Soe.

In 2022, his boss – and the firm’s chief executive and founder Malcolm Ong – suggested he take up a part-time aquaculture course at Temasek Polytechnic.

Soe, who dropped out of university in his home country after his freshman year to support his family when he got married, was initially apprehensive about returning to school.

“I was the only foreigner in class but, fortunately, there was a supportive environment fostered by the students and staff. And I did extensive reading to keep up with my coursework,” he said.

Farm manager Soe Pyae Kyaw looking for fish diseases and parasites in the lab on the farm off Changi. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIMFarm manager Soe Pyae Kyaw looking for fish diseases and parasites in the lab on the farm off Changi. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The thrice-weekly classes were mostly online, except for labwork. After clocking almost 12-hour shifts at work, he would log on to attend tutorials at 7pm. Even after class ended at 10pm, he would revise his studies until midnight. This was his routine for two years.

On May 9, Soe graduated with a Diploma in Applied Science (Aquaculture). The Fish Farmer paid for his course.

It was very stressful. In the first few months, I was very tired, but I got used to it later,” said Soe, who lives on the floating Changi farm with his wife, who is also from Myanmar. Their daughters, aged nine and 20, live in Myanmar.

He has a knack for understanding the science of water quality management and fish diseases, and he could immediately apply what he learnt at the farm. He found it harder to grasp the business and entrepreneurship modules.

Now, the fresh graduate is in charge of the farm’s on-site laboratory, where he does weekly tests to detect parasites and diseases ailing the fishes – and get them treated, if needed.

His employer Ong said: “He can tell you a lot about the health of our fish. Most farms would engage a vet or institution to diagnose.”

Applying what he learnt in the course, Soe also tweaked the feeding regime for red snapper, which allowed them to grow to harvest size in 11 months instead of 13 in the past.

“I can run my farm with a higher level of professionalism and raise the fishes’ survival rates, which is currently 70 per cent,” he added.

By helping to identify diseases earlier and increase growth rates, Mr Soe is hoping to eventually double the farm’s yield, which is currently between 80 and 100 tonnes a year.

Ong, who plans to sponsor another employee for the course, said: “I see a lot of potential in SP (Mr Soe) and a lot of potential to expand our business further. He is an inspiration to other farmers to upgrade their skills.”

Seven fish farm owners – some in their 60s – recently returned to school, to begin obtaining the Good Aquaculture Practice (GAP) certification for their coastal farms off Lim Chu Kang.

This was initiated by the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation, which is working on raising the productivity and farming standards of coastal fish farms, as well as reducing the environmental impact of these farms along the Johor Strait.

In March, the farmers took a course on GAP at Temasek Polytechnic, and are now preparing their farms to be audited before they can be certified. - The Straits Times/ANN

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