Century old hatchery with positive future prospects

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
31 August 2007, at 1:00am

INDONESIA - Built almost a century ago, by administrators of the Dutch East Indies, a complex of 44 big concrete tanks in the village of Punten, near the central East Java town of Batu, continues to be used for breeding fish.

The the hatchery is still operating, but now under the control of the East Java provincial government. It claims to be the only state-run fish farm in the country that produces larvae and fingerlings for farmers.

Thousands of large, colorful fish splash through the constantly running water.

"They're ikan mas", said hatchery director Dewi Nur Setyorini. Which when directly translated means "gold fish".

Although that sounded correct, many of the fish looked far too big to fit into a round bowl atop a living room dresser.

She explained further: "These aren't just for decoration, they're also for eating."

A check of the Latin name - Cyprinus carpio - revealed that ikan mas is actually carp, a distant relative of the goldfish. And in Asia, carp is a much-favored dish.

At Punten hatchery, the biggest and best carp are selected -- three males to every female -- and placed in a breeding tank overnight. The females lay their eggs -- at about 80,000 per fish -- in a floating network of palm fronds. These are then removed, the fertilized eggs are washed out and either sold or allowed to grow for sale as fingerlings.

Another species the hatchery produces is the gaping-mouth lele (freshwater catfish) that's as popular as chicken at roadside eateries throughout Java -- and a lot cheaper.

The nursery runs workshops to help farmers understand the complexities of aquaculture and the opportunities for expansion.

The Punten hatchery, along with Brawijaya University, is also experimenting with freshwater lobsters (or crayfish) as a possible commercial crop. These originally came from Australia, although two varieties found in Papua have also been used for research.

A past record of business success is no guarantee of future prosperity. Dewi is well aware of the dangers because the hatchery doesn't control its own water source, and pressures from other users are increasing.

"When the hatchery was built in 1918 it was in an isolated area," she said. "Now we're surrounded by houses and farms. The river has to flow through 1,500 meters of other properties before it reaches us. The water is discolored, particularly after rain. Fortunately, so far, no problems."

Prof. Rustidja, who heads fisheries research at Malang's Brawijaya University and works with students at the hatchery, agreed that the chances of disease or poisoning were significant.

Farmers upstream are supposed to notify the hatchery when they plan to use pesticides, but rivers in East Java are considered drains where everything from human excrement to plastic bags can be dumped. Overuse of chemical fertilizers on riverside crops is raising nitrogen levels in many waterways.

"The hatchery was hit by a virus in 2001 that inevitably wiped out the whole stock," Rustidja said. And when all tanks share the same water, there's no escape. Sediment is already a problem and the tanks have to be regularly cleaned of sludge. We must be constantly alert to any changes," he said.