Chinese aquaculture firm Hiseaton has diverted its attention to developing a hatcheries business in Brunei as freight transport into China for its farmed fish remains restricted due to COVID-19.

The company, a subsidiary of Guangxi, China-based Hiseaton Foods, operates the first large-scale fish farming enterprise in Brunei. The company planned expansions of its operations earlier this year, and worked for years to gain access to the Chinese market.

However, COVID-19 has caused the company to shift its focus due to a closure on exports.

“Because of the second COVID wave in Brunei, there’s no export container departure from Brunei,” Hiseaton Fisheries Sdn Bhd CEO Cherry told SeafoodSource. “But the good news is we now can produce fish [Barramundi/seabass] fingerlings circularly every month, and we are the only company that can realize this in Brunei.”

COVID-19 has challenged the firm, which became Brunei’s first large-scale fish farming enterprise when it was established in June 2016. The company’s setting up a hatchery has proven to be a positive move, due to a lack of fingerling imports.

“As no fingerlings can be imported to Brunei, many local farming companies have already closed or stopped business, but we still continue on everything,” Wei said.

However, exporting back to China is central to Hiseaton’s original business plan, a plan disrupted by COVID-19.

“The mature fish market in Brunei is very, very small,” said Wei when asked if local sales could replace exports. Hiseaton is farming golden pomfret (pompano), goldeneye perch (Barramundi), and various types of groupers in Brunei waters – all species highly sought after in China.

A member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with which China has a free trade deal, Brunei has sought to build an aquaculture industry in recent years by embracing firms from China and elsewhere. Hiseaton had 158 net cages in Brunei’s coastal waters in 2021, varying in sizes up to 6,000 cubic meters of water – of which the company has 24, made from HDPE [high density polyethylene].

Hiseaton already had challenges stemming from its location in a small island economy. The company had to import all of its hardware, and also had to contend with the impacts of increased energy exploration activity in the Brunei’s waters. A rise in freight costs during COVID-19, meanwhile, put further pressures on the company’s profits.

Hiseaton has been cooperating with Brunei University as well as the Brunei University of Technology to develop local aquaculture skills. Hiseaton also has a Halal-certified processing plant in Brunei and exports to North America and to Australia. The company registered profits early on, but has had to contend with unexpected challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Photo courtesy of Hiseaton Fisheries Sdn Bhd

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