GEORGE TOWN, Jan 18 ― Eating oysters fresh out of the sea may seem a novelty only available in foreign countries, but many Malaysians don’t realise that there are oyster farms here with equally fresh oysters.
In fact, Malaysia has about 30 oyster farmers who cultivate the shellfish in natural environments who make up only 14 per cent of oyster supplies in the country.
“There is not enough local supply of oysters so it is an industry that can grow to meet with local demands,” said state exco Dr Afif Bahardin.
He said it was time for Penang to push for oyster cultivation to grow its aquaculture industry.
The aquaculture industry in Penang recorded RM1.3 billion revenue last year.
“I am confident that oysters are the key to new potential for the aquaculture industry here,” he said when visiting the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (CEMACS) in Muka Head here.
CEMACS set up the country’s first artificial shellfish centre back in 1995.
The centre has been transferring its oyster cultivation knowledge to the local aquaculture industry to push green aquaculture practices forward.
CEMACS director Datuk Aileen Tan said the centre has conducted extensive research into shellfish cultivation, particularly in oysters and clams, to transfer it to the industry.
“Wild catch from the sea has stagnated while aquaculture has grown in the past 20 years, but aquaculture can be environmentally damaging, so we want to introduce green aquaculture that does not affect the environment at all,” she said in a briefing with Dr Afif.
CEMACS has successfully cultivated high-grade oysters that rival those imported from countries like Australia and New Zealand and now hopes to encourage more local fishermen to go into this niche industry.
“We have a market for oysters here as 86 per cent of the oysters in the market are imported,” she said.
CEMACS is so well known for its shellfish cultivation that it is an advisory for setting up hatcheries in the United States, Philippines and Thailand.
“Locally, we have helped many to set up oyster farms in Kedah, Perak and Johor but we only have a few in Penang due to difficulties in identifying suitable locations,” she said.
She said CEMACS provides training to fishermen and aquaculture farmers along with supplying them with oyster seeds for cultivation.
“This can be a lucrative extra income for fishermen as it involves very low investment cost, low maintenance and returns can be high,” she said.
A fisherman need only invest in floating rafts and baskets, find a suitable location in the sea to set up an oyster cultivation farm.
“They could make between RM5,000 to RM10,000 each month if they produce about 10,000 pieces of oysters,” she said.
Tan said oysters thrive in a natural environment, so it is important to set up the farm in unpolluted areas of the sea.
“It is low maintenance as they don’t need to feed the oysters. It will feed on natural algae. They only need to check for predators like crabs and sort out the big and small ones,” she said.
She added that shellfish is a good alternative of protein source compared to fish, and cultivating shellfish does not damage the environment.
“If Penang wants to champion a green state, this is the direction it should move towards,” she said.
She said CEMACS is ready to help cultivators set up their own hatcheries to get them started in oyster farming.
CEMACS produces oyster seeds that fishermen and aquaculture operators can purchase.
Tan said they produce about a million seeds from a few brood stock each month.