There was an interesting article on the?1st November 2006 which talked about a research being conducted now on?arowana breeding in Singapore.??Until today, no one really knows why is it?so hard to breed arowanas.? If?we could just get a glimpse into the biology of the arowana, maybe we could get an answer.? Anyway this is the whole gist of the research conducted.? Can’t wait to see if it will?bear any new insights!? ?
Here is the full article. (Published in Singapore by MediaCorp Press, TODAYonline 1st Nov 2006)
Go Forth and Spawn
Mother Nature gets a hand in efforts to boost the arowana fertility rate
Not many of us get to combine our passion with work, but Mr Alex Chang, a research fellow currently pursuing his PhD with Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL), gets to do that and more.
As the first recipient of the Qian Hu-TLL Life Sciences Scholarship, he is currently involved in research and development (R&D) work, which once fully commissioned, could revolutionise the way farmers breed arowana.
Launched in January 2004, the scholarship aims to train researchers for R&D that is highly relevant to the ornamental fish
industry, and in turn, move the industry towards becoming more knowledge-based.
The unique aspect about the project, said Mr Chang, is that it merges traditional aquaculture with modern molecular and
scientific tools. “Our approach uses high-end molecular tools to understand the breeding biology of the arowana, which is a big contrast to basic aquatic research which is restricted to conventional methods like selective breeding,” he told Today.
Arowana, or dragon fish, is currently the most popular pet ornamental fish, due to its association with good feng shui, especially among businessmen. Covered in glistening gold, silver or red scales, the fish is regarded as a “good luck charm”, bringing peace, harmony and prosperity to businessmen. In recent years, arowana hobbyists have almost tripled in number here, many of them keeping the freshwater fish for its unique beauty.
The Chinese call it the “dragon fish” because its elongated body, large mouth, eyes and barbels on the lower jaw resemble images of the mythical beast. While the fish can live up to 100 years, they fetch a high price of between $3,000 and $50,000, as they are difficult to breed, spawning well only in natural ponds. Of late, its appeal has spread further, with India and the United States seen as potential lucrative markets.
The $1.2-million research project, is a collaboration between Qian Hu and TLL, a non-profit organisation established in 2002 to undertake research in molecular biology and genetics. Qian Hu, a home-grown fish farm that was the first of its kind to seek a mainboard listing in the region, is also Singapore’s leading exporter of ornamental fish.
“This is the first time in Singapore that a fish farm is working with a research institute and sponsoring a student for a PhD
programme at the same time,” said Mr Chang, who has been working with arowanas for more than five years, and has authored a handbook on Asian Cichlasoma.
Qian Hu was keen on the project, as the results of the study will help remove two barriers that have persisted in traditional
methods of breeding: Understanding the mating behaviour of the arowana, and ultimately breeding higher quality fish.
For now, the arowana’s breeding behaviour appears a little mysterious, as there are no conclusive studies to indicate if they are strictly monogamous or polygamous in their choice of partners. The matter is further complicated by a lack of sexual dimorphism, that is, the male and the female look exactly the same. However, what is known is that it is the male arowana that picks up the eggs after fertilisation and incubates them in the mouth for about two months before the fry are released to survive on their own.
“The traditional method of breeding is to place about 20 arowanas in the pond, and after two months, harvest the fish and check to see if there are any eggs in the mouth,” said Mr Chang.
A lot of care is taken not to injure the costly fish, making the process labour- and time-consuming. “This is how the industry has been operating for the past 15 years. Even if you find a male with the eggs in his mouth, no light is shed on how many males or females there are in the pond or who the mother is.”
By picking a small scale from the fish and extracting the DNA, microsatellite markers, which are DNA markers used intensively in forensic sciences, will show who the parents are. “DNA extracted from the fish will enable us to tell how many male and female arowanas there are in the pond. In addition, it also tells us which fish is mating with whom. In this way, we can separate the parents and put them in their own enclosure to breed in peace.”
By separating the pair, it is hoped that the frequency of breeding will increase, as there is less competition from rival suitors. As the fish pass down their genes the Mendelian way, that is, one set of genes from the father and another set from the mother, the study will look into the possibility of pairing a “good-looking” arowana with another “good-looking” one so that the quality of the offspring is enhanced.
But even with increased production, Mr Chang does not believe that demand and price for the fish will drop because a lot of new markets have opened for the 20 or so registered farms here.
Aside from demand from China and Taiwan, there is also a resurgence seen from Japan, as it recovers from its economic slump.
The research will also help consolidate Singapore’s position as a leader in the ornamental fish market. According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Singapore currently exports about 30 per cent, or about US$50-million-worth ($78 million), of the world’s ornamental fish export market. The global ornamental fish market is estimated to be around US$166 million.
“Competition in the arowana market is intensifying, with more Indonesian and Malaysian farms also looking into breeding the fish.? If Qian Hu, as the only listed fish farm here, is not going to move one level up, then we will remain as just another arowana supplier in the market,” Mr Chang emphasised.