Tan Sri Ng Teck Fong, the founder and group executive chairman of jeweller Tomei Consolidated Bhd, once again has his eyes focused on something glittery. This time around, however, it has nothing to do with precious metals or gems.
What he has his attention focused on now is groupers — fish with glittery spotted bodies that are in great demand as a pricey delicacy in restaurants across the region, especially in Hong Kong and China.
The market for the fish is also international, as grouper can be shipped as far as the West and Middle East with deep freezing.
Due to the dwindling population of wild groupers as a result of overfishing and damage to coral reefs, limits on catches are starting to emerge in waters where groupers are fished.
This, and the demand for the fish, is the driving some to take on the farming of groupers.
Still, the farming of deep-sea fish is not an easy task, especially since groupers are highly sensitive to the environment and prone to sickness.
Groupers, which are carnivores, are particular about the protein content in their feed. If they reject their feed and become hungry they can attack each other.
“Currently, Taiwan has developed grouper farming quite well thanks to its technology and proximity to Hong Kong, where the demand is. However, Taiwan has to deal with typhoons, earthquakes and also winter. Malaysia is free of all these enviromental concerns,” said Ng in an interview with MetroBiz, adding that the Malaysian waters are also less polluted.
Ng said that many banks would not grant loans for such efforts as grouper farming is seen as a high-risk industry that needs a huge amount of capital.
He is urging the the government assist the industry to maximise profit and potential.
“We are dealing with live organisms here, not machines. Fish farmers may lose all their stock overnight if there’s something wrong with the water, or if bacteria hits,” he said.
Ng said that fish farms in Malaysia produce mostly tilapia and seabass and bank on volume, with only a handful daring to dabble with grouper.
Commercial grouper farming began only in recent years, and he believes his operation is the largest of its kind in the country.
The farm in Banting, where the hatchery and nursery sections are located, sits on 12ha site.
Located about an hour away from Kuala Lumpur, the farm is near stretches of oil palm plantation and fishing villages sitting near the estuary of Sungai Langat.
“We started setting up the business about four years ago, and spent a good 12 months searching for the right place.
“In the end, we managed to convince several former shrimp farmers to sell their land to us, and we signed a 30-year tenancy contract with the National Fishermen’s Association to convert a peat swamp gazetted for agricultural purposes to what it is today,” Ng said.
The venture, which also includes two more farms in Pulau Pangkor and Pulau Ketam where 200 cages are placed for fry cultivated in