As one of the major exporters of fish in the East Asian region, Sabah is well-positioned to meet growing regional demand for fresh and frozen seafood. Seafood consumption in Malaysia is among the highest in Southeast Asia, and aquaculture is increasingly seen as the solution to bridge the gap between supply and demand.
Sabah is ranked as the highest aquaculture producer in Malaysia in terms of metric tonnes (209,248 metric tonnes valued at USD$120 million), and second in marine fish landing in terms of metric tonnage (179,718 metric tonnes valued at USD$258 million). In 2019, Malaysia produced 411,782 metric tonnes of aquaculture valued at USD$790 million.
The country’s main marine commodities include fresh and processed fish (freshwater fish 104,602 metric tonnes valued at USD$187 million and marine fish/prawn 119,069 metric tonnes valued at USD$588 million); seaweed products (188,111 metric tonnes valued at USD$16 million); and ornamental fish (287 million pieces valued at USD$121 million).
With the support of the Malaysian Department of Fisheries, caged farm fishing activities have developed significantly over the last 20 years and is now considered among the most popular aquaculture methods in Sabah with its sheltered coasts and estuaries along the East coast. Several high in-demand fish breeds suitable for cage farming include seabass (Lates calcarifer), golden snapper (Lutjanus Johni) and grouper (Epinephelus taurirna).
Seafood consumption in Malaysia is among the highest in Southeast Asia, and with fisheries capture declining, aquaculture is increasingly seen as the solution for bridging the gap between supply and demand. In support of federal government initiatives to increase aquaculture to 50 percent of total marine production, Sabah offers investors opportunities to tap into the up-and-coming aquaculture industry.
Emerging opportunities in sustainable aquaculture include investment in Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), which requires less water and land compared to traditional capture fish systems. RAS is an almost completely closed-circuit wherein waste products are either removed or converted into non-toxic products which are continuously reused. Culture water is purified, making RAS intensive fish production compatible with environmental sustainability. High in-demand fish most suitable for RAS include Tilapia, Barramundi, Catfish, and Crayfish.
Recent Investment Activity
In April 2021, the state government approved incoming USD$20 million investment from Borneo Lestari for a four-phase aquaculture project. Borneo Lestari will be collaborating with state-owned Sawit Kinabalu Group on the latter’s 14.16 hectares in Langkon, Kota Marudu, to establish a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) capable of producing a minimum of 1,000 to 1,250 tonnes of barramundi annually.
In August 2019, Lang Biru Fisheries was set up in Langkawi with a grow-out facility that houses 150 floating cages in deep waters that facilitates circulation and more controlled temperature gradients. With the company’s success in breeding dragon tiger groupers and red snappers, Lang Biru Fisheries is looking to acquire a facility in Sabah for breeding Grouper fingerlings.
In February 2020, Bayu Aquaculture, a Sabah-based aquaculture company, became the first hatchery in Malaysia to produce streaked Spinefoot Rabbitfish and rear a crossbred backcross grouper. Bayu Aquaculture has also collaborated with the Sabah Department of Fisheries under the Aquaculture Residue Monitoring Programme to monitor chemical levels in their operations. With the capacity to produce 30,000 hatchlings a month from its 300 grow-out cages, the Bayu Aquaculture hatchery supplies fish to several standalone restaurants and resorts around Sabah.