Meet Alawn Koh

Head of Business Development
Rong Yao Fisheries

Some people are born with a burning passion for farming; for others, pragmatic concerns about the food security of our nation are paramount. Formerly from the legal industry, Alawn Koh, took his first steps into the world of aquaculture out of a growing concern for the food security of our country. 

Since then, Alawn has taken on a multifaceted role as Head of Business Development at Rong Yao Fisheries, leading his team with an unwavering commitment to the future of our nation’s sustainability. 


The World of Fish Farming

Alawn Koh delves into the many facets of running a fish farm as a thriving business.

What motivated you to join the world of aquaculture? Image

What motivated you to join the world of aquaculture?

Unlike farmers like Leow Ban Tat, I didn’t join the industry because of a passion for the subject matter. Leow Ban Tat used his retirement fund to start his endeavour – now, that’s really passion!

I used to be in law, and it was only over the years that I began to understand this industry just a little bit. I’m motivated by a more pragmatic concern – we really need to safeguard our nation’s food security.

What was it like joining the industry?  Image

What was it like joining the industry?

Farming is not an easy industry and has a different set of challenges from law. It’s very dynamic – fishes may suddenly die en masse, or suddenly lose appetite, or perhaps you notice a lot of them develop some physical issues.

So one must respond very quickly, find out what happens immediately by bringing them to the lab [if they get sick for example]. We currently have a tie-up with Temasek Polytechnic at Tampines, so that we can respond immediately if anything crops up with the fish.

What’s your current job scope? Image

What’s your current job scope?

It’s basically a management role. Managing people was not really a skill I had to worry about at a law firm. Language barriers can be a problem, as our workers are from China and Myanmar – we still have to resort to sign language sometimes, but we’ve picked up each other’s languages over the years. 

But I really take my hat off to them [for their diligence]. When we first started out in 2011, they were memorising keystrokes on the computer to use Excel.

What’s the most challenging aspect of fish farming? Image

What’s the most challenging aspect of fish farming?

Farming has different challenges, largely to do with fish mortality. If you import 10 bottles of coke, you’re going to sell 10 bottles of coke, but you can’t say that with the same certainty for fish. 

The same goes for feed consumption and cost—there’s no formula for it. This year alone our feed supplier has increased their price 3 different times. But the price of our fish did not increase. 

How applicable are your legal skill sets to the world of fish farming? Image

How applicable are your legal skill sets to the world of fish farming?

It helps a lot in drafting out contracts with other parties. But in law, if you don’t know something you can still read up on it. In farming, I find myself learning along the way through trial and error.

I relied a lot on the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) when we first started, and even now they’re the true experts and have a lot of the knowledge and experience. We’ve become close friends over the years.

What does a fish farmer need to be successful? Image

What does a fish farmer need to be successful?

Trial and error, knowledge and experience. The lao jiao (veterans) in this industry have been around for fifty, sixty years and Rong Yao Fisheries only started in 2011, so I think of us as relatively new. There’s always more to learn!

What’s the most heart-warming aspect of being a fish farmer? Image

What’s the most heart-warming aspect of being a fish farmer?

I’m grateful for the friendships formed over the years, both with my staff and the SFA personnel. Those on the ground are working extremely hard and helping all of us farmers.

A Day in the Life

“The title of Business Development may be there, but I do pretty much everything from operations to sales,” Alawn says with a laugh. “It’s pretty broad [in terms of job scope] – One leg kick all!”

Unlike other members of his team, Alawn only finds himself at the sea once or twice a week to manage his staff at the farm. The rest of his time is devoted to training, managing the farm’s data systems, liaising with suppliers, managing the farm’s sales and customers and handling the head office’s legal matters.

Food for thought

Alawn Koh shares his insights into the hard work that’s needed for our local fish farms to thrive.

The cost of feeding fish

You are what you eat, and the same can be said for fish! According to Alawn, feed consumption accounts for up to 70% of business costs—it’s testament to the quality of feed being used at local fish farms.

The evolution of the industry

In Alawn’s opinion, the success of local aquaculture hinges on finding the right balance between leveraging high-tech solutions—which may be more expensive to operate— and managing the cost of fish for the local consumer.

Farming for the future

With the recent food export bans from our neighbours, Alawn believes that our nation’s food security may now be foregrounded in the minds of Singaporeans. In his opinion, sustainable farming will play an increasingly important role in safeguarding Singapore’s food resilience.

Rong Yao’s Golden Pomfret can be found at various NTUC FairPrice Outlets. 

Rong Yao Fisheries

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