SINGAPORE - The fishing industry and authorities have played down fears of seafood shortages, saying Singapore is "well-prepared" for Malaysia's temporary restrictions on exports of certain varieties of wild caught fish and shrimp.
The Malaysian government said on Monday (Dec 17) that it will prohibit the export of the seafood from Jan 1 to Feb 28 and May 1 to June 30 next year to meet supply shortages during the monsoon and festive seasons.
Similar bans have been in place over the last six years.
The affected species, which include live, chilled and frozen forms, are kembong (Indian mackerel), pelaling (short-bodied mackerel), selar (horse mackerel), salayang (sardines), bawal putih (silver pomfret) and all shrimp and prawn.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said on Wednesday that the restrictions are not likely to have a significant impact on Singapore's overall seafood supply, as importers are "well-prepared to tap other readily available sources during the stated periods", adding that Malaysia's exports of these six species of seafood made up less than 10 per cent of the Republic's total seafood supply last year.
Malaysia tends to cut back on its exports, as the monsoon season affects the volume of catches and Chinese New Year festive period raises domestic demand.
Mr Lee Boon Cheow, 79, president of the Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association, told The Straits Times that the twice-a-year export bans have had "no impact to our fishery industry".
Singapore gets its seafood from other countries including Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, he said.
Indonesia is the Republic's biggest seafood supplier, accounting for between 40 and 50 per cent. "There is no need to worry about not (having) enough fish," Mr Lee said.
Mr Tay Peng Kiat, 52, owner of Chip Hong (Pin Sin) Fishery, said: "Every year the same: Because of the Chinese New Year, there's a decrease in the supply. Malaysians also need to eat and celebrate."
However, he warned that fish prices will rise, with pomfret, for example, expected to double from the usual $20 per kg to $40 per kg. For prawn, it can increase from $15 per kg to $25 per kg.
"The decrease in fish supply is also due to the monsoon season. We usually get less fish at end-December and January. It has been like that all the while," added Mr Tay.
A spokesman for supermarket operator Sheng Siong, which has 54 supermarkets across Singapore, said the bans are not expected to have "a significant impact" on business.
The food and beverage industry, meanwhile, has its own ways to get around the ban by using other types of seafood.
A spokesman for the Punggol Nasi Lemak outlet in Kovan said: "If there's no kuning, we could substitute it with a fish that is of the same size."
"Every year, there will be a slump," she said of the fish. "Due to the seasonal monsoon, with a change in weather, there could be fewer fishermen out at sea. Another reason could be the demand in other countries rising too, so a greater portion of the supply goes to the other countries."
"To cope with a shortage, we can also resort to using frozen fish. Or we can just limit the number of fish sold per day."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.