Meet Malcolm Ong

The Fish Farmer

While some individuals’ foray into the world of aquaculture have been leaps into the future, for Malcolm Ong, becoming a farmer was like coming home.

Following his successes as Managing Director of a French software firm, Malcolm joined the world of aquaculture after meeting and befriending traditional fish farmers. Under his leadership, The Fish Farmer’s four farms now produce over a variety of fish and fish-based food products, including grey mullet, milk fish, red snapper, barramundi and sea perch.

School of hard knocks

Malcolm shares his experiences as an industry veteran, and the lessons he’s learnt on his journey in the world of aquaculture.

What inspired you to join the aquaculture industry? Image

What inspired you to join the aquaculture industry?

It wasn’t just one factor but many that led me to join the industry. I originally intended to buy a boat because I love the sea… but after meeting with traditional fish farmers and hearing their stories, I was inspired to ditch the idea and go even further.
What are some challenges faced by the traditional aquaculture industry? Image

What are some challenges faced by the traditional aquaculture industry?

Most traditional fish farmers are very old, and many of their children don’t want to take over… We’re talking 70 or 80 plus and still in the business. If you’re 60 and a traditional farmer you’re considered young.

Farming has always been hard work. You are exposed to the elements all the time and dealing with live animals makes it harder — after all, fish can’t call out for help.

And what were some of the challenges you faced starting out? Image

And what were some of the challenges you faced starting out?

There are many different challenges — for example, the market needs ‘x’, but our water is more suitable for ‘y’.

We rear milkfish at first because milkfish is very hardy…but milkfish isn’t popular with Singaporeans, because it’s very ley chey [troublesome] to eat, there are more than 200 tiny bones. So, we started to sell grey mullet which is less bony and more often used in Chinese cuisine.

Did any of your previous skills in software transfer to aquaculture? Image

Did any of your previous skills in software transfer to aquaculture?

I’d say the main skill was centred on getting the business up and running — management, marketing, building trust as a supplier. Production is just one of the many factors needed to run a fish farm.

You need to have a great product and a connection with key people especially customers. It’s about developing mutual respect and trust.

A day in the life

“On a typical day, I try to look at two things—What the market wants, and what we can do better,” Malcolm shares. “Even simple things like drivers delivering the wrong product can be fixed with the right system in place.”

As leader of his organisation, much of Malcolm’s time is spent on problem solving and big picture processes, ranging from creating more efficient operations to keeping track of strategic conundrums such as market trends and consumption patterns. To Malcolm, every problem faced is an opportunity to do better.

Food for thought

Malcolm shares his veteran insights on how aquaculture has evolved, and the various complexities of the industry.

Youth and passion

In Malcolm’s opinion, young people and fresh talent are the keys to providing Singapore’s burgeoning farming scene with an added dynamism, due to their familiarity with technology and the fresh perspective they may bring to the industry.

Flavours of the month

Besides being an aquaculture expert, Malcolm’s work also requires a savvy understanding of shifting consumer preferences, and tailoring his products to suit the market. While older consumers may prefer purchasing whole fish, younger consumers may prefer more easily prepared products, such as fillets.

Sustainability and sea changes

When Malcolm first made his foray into the aquaculture industry, there were more wild caught fish than farmed fish in the local market. In Malcolm’s view, farming is a sustainable solution which will ultimately alleviate larger issues like overfishing and global warming.

The Fish Farmer’s delicious seafood is available on Amazon Fresh, RedMart and , as well as supermarkets like Cold Storage and NTUC FairPrice.

The Fish Farmer

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