Unfortunately, nowadays, the seafood business is no longer as lively as it used to be as more and more of the precious products are shipped off overseas where they would catch higher prices compared to when they are sold domestically.
This leaves only the lower grades of seafood for the people and the restaurants.
It also does not help that the supply of fish in the open seas had diminished drastically over the years due to overfishing. And even if there was an abundance of supply, fishermen are too scared to go fishing, thanks to the security threat that never seems to end.
For these reasons, Datuk Lo Fui Ming said he started Borneo Aqua Harvest Berhad’s first fish farm in Lahad Datu more than 15 years ago, with the goal of providing Sabahans the best and healthiest seafood at cheap prices.
“The people in Sabah have been denied good quality seafood for a long time. They just did not realise it.
How can people be certain that the fish they are buying at the market are fresh?
Nowadays, dishonest vendors put chemicals to make their products look new and fresh,” he said.
In order to start his farm, Lo gave up his vast oil palm estates, some 20,000 acres which included a processing mill, and dumped the money onto the farm’s facilities and researches.
“I was determined to help Sabah’s aquaculture industry and hopefully, at the same time, help strengthen and accelerate the economic growth in the State,” he said.
Lo’s farm, which also includes hatcheries in Sandakan and Lahad Datu and a packing plant in the latter, produces several types of fish including the Sabah Kertang, a cross breed of two popular species of Grouper, trouts, Sabah Giant Coral Rockcod and more recently, the farm successfully bred and reared sea bass, the first fish farm that managed to do it in the country, following years of research and trial and error.
The fish are sold at a very affordable price in Borneo Aqua Harvest chain of restaurants and some, are exported to Hong Kong and China. The company has a fleet of vessels dedicated to send live fish to Hong Kong twice a month.
The sea bass is set to be the company’s next main product with Lo aiming to produce at least 1,000 tonne metric of seabass this year.
Sea bass is the third most marketable fish in the world after salmon and snapper genus.
Currently, the company is selling their sea bass as live fish, frozen and as salted fish using the normal methods used in Japan and Taiwan.
The sea bass produced in the fish farm is a cross breed between Australian sea bass and local sea bass resulting in a more fleshy and sweet-tasting sea bass.
The first test batch of its salted sea bass finally hit the shelves earlier last month and Lo said he is hoping to send the first frozen sea bass shipment to Hong Kong soon.
Lo who is the Chief Executive Officer of the company said he had always been concerned about the safety of his food and figured that the same concern is shared by any other right-thinking person.
For this reason, he said, he made it his goal to ensure that his products are safe and healthy and insisted that it is crucial for the people to be aware of what they put in their bodies and the government has the obligation to conduct regular checking on the seafood sold at the wet markets all across the State.
“Some farms use cheap antibiotics that would stay in the fish’s bodies and later will pass into our system when we eat these fish. This is dangerous especially for children.
“We treat our fish with the ultimate care and we do not use any chemicals except the one-time antibiotic administered to the fingerlings. These antibiotics would stay in their system for two weeks before being completely flushed out.
“In that way, what people eat when they buy these fish are truly healthy, organic fish.
This I can guarantee myself. Just bring our fish to the Chemistry Department and test them.
They won’t find a trace of chemical in these,” he said.
Lo also pointed out that the people in general have the wrong idea of what ‘fresh fish’ meant.
For them, he said, seeing a fish wiggling and struggling for air is an indication that the fish is fresh and safe for eating and would always prefer these fish to frozen ones.
In theory, he said, it is true that these fish are new but warned that a distressed fish is poisonous because of a type of chemical it releases into its body as it struggles for survival.
“In fact, the act of ‘killing’ a fish must also be done right. You cannot just hit its head.
What we do in our farm is different. We have our method. We cut them a little without distressing them, and put them in cold water.
“Their blood will ooze out slowly but they will be comfortable and do not even realise they are dying.
As a result, no deadly poison is released into their system and thus safe for consumption,” he said.
The Borneo Aqua Harvest’s packaging plant in Lahad Datu is run by at least three crews of employees, who work in shifts to clean, wash and pack the fish for the general market.
The job of taking care of the fish is done by another crew who would feed them four times daily, something that Lo decided to be the best for the fish as it optimises the fish health and growth.
Even the feed is frozen to ensure they are kept fresh for the fish.
“Not many people are going to the sea these days and as a result, these feeds have doubled in price from eighty cents previously to RM1.50 per kg now. But we have no intention of changing the fish diet to cut cost,” he said.
The Borneo Aqua Harvest spent millions on research and development in the span of 15 years since they first started the business because, as Lo put it, “we want to rely on our fries because then only we know that the fish we produce are of high quality.”
As a result, the company boasts of 70 per cent survival rate of its fries, something that is very rare in the industry.
“We have to be realistic and admit that we cannot rely on the open seas to provide us with seafood forever.
Aquaculture is the answer to fulfilling the increasing consumer demands.
Not only will the industry boost our State’s economy, but also make Sabah a seafood paradise once again,” he said.