Farmed fish: Friend of the sea


Aeons assistant general manager, foodline division, Hiroko Yamada needs help from GST aquacultures Aazif to hoist up a sustainably farmed giant garoupa.

If you have been buying fish at Aeon, you may have seen fish with a tag that says: Friend of the Sea.

It’s trying to tell you that the fish is safe to eat as it has been farmed in a way that didn’t harm the sea habitat. Cooking it will not lead to the depletion of any fish species in the sea. The eco-label makes it easy to identify which fish is sustainably farmed or caught.

What you may not know is that the little tag happens to mark a big breakthrough in the campaign for sustainable seafood retailing and consumption.

For years, Greenpeace International has been lobbying in Japan – one of the world’s biggest consumers of seafood – to change the way big corporations, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants buy their seafood.

When supermarket giant Aeon became the first major retailer in Japan to introduce sustainably sourced seafood products in March last year, it was a major triumph for the NGO.

“They said it couldn’t be done. They said you couldn’t change Japanese attitudes to eating seafood. Last week, we proved the doubters wrong,” it says in a news release.

The good news to consumers is that we now have a choice to buy sustainable seafood at the supermarket – there are 53 Aeon outlets throughout Malaysia and four Aeon MaxValu outlets, so the potential outreach is great.

Sustainably sourced fish at Aeon are tagged with the Friend of the Sea ecolabel so consumers can identify them easily. These golden pompano and siakap come from the local GST aquaculture farm.
Sustainably sourced fish at Aeon are tagged with the Friend of the Sea eco-label so consumers can identify them easily. These golden pompano and siakap come from the local GST aquaculture farm.

Aeon’s “Sustainable Procurement Principle” was inked in February 2014 and lay out the company’s pledge for biodiversity conservation and resource depletion prevention. It was done to “more actively provide ASC (Agriculture Stewardship Council) certified products and other sustainable seafood,” the company says in a press statement.

Under this policy, being implemented across Aeon stores in Japan, the company is committed to the elimination of illegal trading, harvesting and fishing of natural resources; minimising use of non-renewable resources, and establishing agricultural and fishery production location and fishing method traceability.

“In Malaysia we have started to study Aeon’s policy for conservation of biodiversity and prevention of natural resource depletion,” says Hiroko Yamada, Aeon Malaysia’s food line assistant general manager.

Aeon Malaysia has made small forays into providing sustainably farmed fish even before the pledge. “Since December 2012, we have started to source seafood from the GST Group which supplies FOS-certified local farmed fish,” Hiroko says. “We started selling their frozen products first, and then extended the range to fresh cultured fish in March 2013.”

Working with WWF Malaysia, they have established a chain of supply with the local sustainable fishery.

As workers raise the net of the sea cage, a school of market-ready red snapper comes into view.
As workers raise the net of the sea cage, a school of market-ready red snapper comes into view.

Sustainable fish farm

GST is a Friend of the Sea-certified local aquaculture farm and seafood processing facility involved in the Aquaculture Improvement Programme with WWF (AIP-WWF). The company has sea cages and hatchery in Penang and Perak with a record for product traceability.

Named after its founder Goh Siong Tee, it started as a small, family-based seafood trading company in Penang 30 years ago. It set up a sea farm in Pulau Aman, Penang, in the early 90s and now has about 10,000 cages with additional facilities in Pulau Jerejak in Penang, and Pulau Pangkor in Perak.

Its modern seafood processing plant – and headquarters – in the Simpang Ampat Industrial Zone is HACCP and BRC (British Retail Consortium) compliant, with a European Union certified production standard, signifying a high level of safety and quality competence to meet export requirements.

The plant processes over 2,000 tons of seafood a year, including portioned fillets in vacuum packs for export to Australia, Europe and America.

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When they have developed to the point where they are capable of feeding themselves, the fish are called fry.
When they have developed to the point where they are capable of feeding themselves, the fish are called fry.

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When the fishes have developed scales and working fins, the transition to a juvenile fish is complete and it is called a fingerling.
When the fish have developed scales and working fins, the transition to a juvenile fish is complete and it is called a fingerling.

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It is a “total control supply” pioneer in the Asia-Pacific region, with its own facilities to control all aspects of production, including a fish feed plant. It has a pilot hatchery in Batu Kawan, Penang, to produce fish fries from eggs collected from its own farms.

The fries mature into fingerlings and grow in one of the 45 ponds on the 20ha facility before being transferred to sea cages where they grow to market sizes. The hatchery is able to produce vast varieties of fish fries like barramundi (siakap), red snapper, grouper and cobia to meet the needs of the group’s breeding farms and for sale to other farms.

At the halal and ISO 9001 certified processing plant, the fish are filleted, trimmed, washed and vacuum packed before blast chilling and shipping out.

From the second Penang bridge, you may just be able to spot GST’s floating aquaculture farm. Some 150m off the island of Jerejak and a 20-minute boat ride from the Pulau Jerejak jetty, the 320 sea cages float in the calm jade green waters, linked by narrow, wooden planks in a grid pattern.

The GST aquaculture farm near Pulau Jerejak in Penang.
The GST aquaculture farm near Pulau Jerejak in Penang.

Each cage is home to a fish species; the smaller fishes are placed in cages of a finer net and are transferred to coarser nets as they grow. Workers live for extended periods on the platform to feed, transfer and harvest the fish, and maintain the nets.

The fishes bred here include the red snapper, golden snapper, golden pompano, barramundi, green grouper, travelly and cobia. The biggest fish is the giant grouper which can grow up to 30kg and these are bound for live fish markets in Hong Kong.

The most popular market fish sizes are between 400g and 600g, 700g and 900g, and 1.2kg and 1.4kg, says GST senior aquaculture technician Mohd Addin Aazif. It takes between five and eight months to grow a barramundi of 400g to 900g.

NEXT PAGE: The importance of buying sustainable seafood

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