Local appetite for eel and export potential leads to business switch up

Last update: 10/09/2019

By Kamaliza Kamaruddin & Tuan Azam Tuan Johan

SETIU, Sept 10 – A drop in demand for catfish led Zakaria Harun, 65, to switch up his business to offer eels instead.

The fish farmer, who once had a career in the oil and gas industry, said at one point in 2012 he was producing 17 metric tonnes of catfish a month, but after the hunger for them lessened due to a pricing issue, he decided to taper his production to just 5 metric tonnes now.

Having already invested RM300,000 in his breeding set-up, he then thought he would go into eel farming where there is big export potential to countries like Korea and Japan for the food, medicine and cosmetics sectors.

Despite not having formal training in aquaculture, he experimented for about eight years to find a way to produce eels commercially.

“I had 121 ponds measuring 3m x 6m for the catfish which I reutilised for my research into producing breeding stock.

“I had bought nine pairs of eels weighing a total 6kg at just RM132 in 2012 and since 2016 have produced 300kg of eels for the local market,” he told Bernama at his breeding base in Kampung Kubang Puyu near Langkap.

Zakaria’s trial-and-error method included a study of water quality, soil, breeding technique and food formulation (which is now JAKIM-certified halal) to get good-size eels that are not susceptible to disease.

He said normally eels are wild-caught from marshes, padi fields and other boggy areas, but the amount is not enough to satisfy demand from mainly restaurants with eel dishes.

Zakaria is able to sell eels that are under 300gm at RM25 per kg, those that are between 300gm and 500gm at RM30 per kg and those that are between 500gm and 700gm at RM40 per kg.

His success has drawn the interest of an investment company from Kuala Lumpur that wants to start a 3,600-pond breeding facility over 20ha in Sungai Tong which is expected to be complete by 2021 and could become a Terengganu aqua tourism attraction.

Zakaria also revealed that his achievement has opened the eyes of many who have visited and joined an intensive course on going commercial.

“Among them are Aquaculture Diploma students from Politeknik Jeli, Kelantan; lecturers and students from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan and Universiti Sains Malaysia; and people who want to go into eel farming,” he said.