While Brunei, bounded by fertile seas, has a long tradition of fishing, the industry can meet only around half of domestic demand and the country currently needs to import fish from neighbouring states. According to a statement from the ministry of industry and primary resources in August 2007, annual per capita fish consumption in Brunei is 45 kg, one of the highest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
Though it does export some seafood products, notably prawns, Brunei is keen to counteract the shortfall in local supplies and foster aquaculture as a means of generating employment and export income.
As part of this programme, the government has set aside two sites in the Tutong district to be developed for aquacultural activities, with a 459 ha block of land reserved for shrimp farming on the Penyatang River, adding to the 230 ha that is already being used to cultivate prawns. The other site, covering 40 hectares, has been reserved for fish farming in the Telisai area. The Telisai site is projected to produce 5600 tonnes of farmed fish annually at peak capacity.
One local company has already been allocated a 100 ha site to establish a farm to cultivate black tiger prawns.
When both sites are fully developed, they are expected to generate earnings of more than $60m annually, according to Sabri Haji Mohd Taha, an official of the strategic development division of the fisheries department.
The Tutong development is part of Brunei's broader long-term strategy to cash in on the booming market for seafood. In late 2006, Pehin Dato Haji Ahmad, minister of industry and primary resources, said the sultanate was targeting total earnings from the fisheries sector of $400m by 2023. Of this, it was planned that $200m would be generated from aquaculture and a further $113m from prawn breeding.
Given that Brunei's earnings from prawn exports were $6.05m in 2006, with 374.79 tonnes shipped overseas, according to official statistics, there is a long way to go before the targets set by the minister are met, though projects at Telisai and on the Penyatang River are a step in the right direction.
Brunei's endeavours to develop its land-based fisheries industry have generated a certain degree of interest from overseas investors. According to Taha, a Taiwanese firm has expressed interest in operating out Tutong, with plans to farm grouper. Meanwhile, in September 2007, a delegation of Japanese businessmen visited the sultanate to reconnoiter a site for a proposed tuna culture project.
Many other countries in the region are also putting money into aquaculture, creating competition for both markets and foreign investment. However, with the international demand for seafood showing no sign of declining, there does appear to be a place for Brunei to carve out a niche.
One of the advantages enjoyed by Brunei is its temperate climate, which allows for extended breeding seasons and the ability to harvest year round. The equatorial temperatures also have a major cost advantage in that fish farms do not have to spend money on climate control to protect stocks from extreme cold, as can be the case in Europe and China.
Apart from allocating sites for fish and prawn farms, the state has also been working to support the aquaculture industry in other ways. In late January, officials from the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) held talks with representatives of the Singapore Economic Development Board on ways to promote commercial developments in the sultanate's aquaculture and forest resource industry.
Earlier the same month, the fisheries department signed a three-year contract with the US consultancy firm Integrated Aquaculture International (IAI) to provide assistance and technical support to the local shrimp industry. According to IAI's technical director, George Chamberlain, Brunei will be able to increase its shrimp production to 1000 tonnes within three years, a level that would allow the sultanate to develop a significant presence in export-markets, he told local press on January 18.