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« เมื่อ: ตุลาคม 16, 2006, 09:59:20 PM »

Pichaya Svasti,
Source or related URL: http://www.bangkokpost.com

 

A vet by training, Sitthisak Muangsin uses an interest in animals to fuel his success as owner of the country's first and only abalone farm, based in Phuket.

 

The road has not been smooth but Sitthisak is determined. His dream is to see Thailand become a world-class seafood producer through research and development.

 

A slow-growing herbivorous marine snail, abalone feed at night on seaweed. For centuries, abalone have been a gastronomic delicacy in Asia, especially China and Japan.

 

Abalone farming was unnecessary three decades ago when 28,000 tonnes were caught a year; today however, catches are way down.

 
 
Phuket Abalone Farm Managing Director Sitthisak Muangsin: "Success is not too far away for those who are smart and don't give up easily."
 
He recalls that his interest in animals began since he was in Grade 1. Walking past and standing by the school's fish pond every day, the then six-year-old Sitthisak was curious why the Firemouth Cichlid fish, which fed on bread, was so small. He would later learn that there is a thing called animal malnutrition.

 

The boy then turned to raising oscar fish only to find them dead, day after day. But he would not give up. His collection of pets grew to include goldfish, Siamese fighting fish, dogs, cats, budgerigars (nok hong yok), rabbits, doves and quail.

 

What was most exciting, however, was his experiment of using an old iron as a thermostat to help quails hatch their eggs when he was in Prathom 7.

 

"That part of my life sowed the seeds of love for animals. And I became a vet," Sitthisak remarks.
 
 

After six years at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Veterinary Science, he opened a shrimp farm in Surat Thani and spent the most part of a decade there.

 

"I started from zero by borrowing money from relatives to run the shrimp farm. I used the profits from the shrimp to invest in abalone farming," he says.

 

Why abalone?

 

The connection is long and might sound accidental. Sitthisak's wife, veterinarian Parnjai, wanted to live by the sea. And a friend gave him a New Zealand abalone shell as a souvenir. And that shell inspired Sitthisak to seek to culture high-value marine animals that are in short supply but for which demand is high.

 

He found the answer in abalone.

 

He started the farm in 1988. The first year was hard for Sitthisak, who ran his shrimp farm by the book. After receiving training in Taiwan, Sitthisak decided not to rear the popular Haliotis diversicolour, a Japanese-Taiwanese species, because he thought the local environment might not be conducive to their growth. He opted for a lesser-known species. What a disaster that proved to be: No one wanted to buy his product.
 
 
Abalone in the farm's self-designed condo-shaped rearing units.
 

 

"I wasted two or three years and simply wasted tens of millions of baht. I went through terrible times, especially when our R&D failed, despite help from relatives and the Board of Investment. But, at least I got the know-how in return," Sitthisak recalls.

 

Instead of brooding on the misfortune, Sitthisak set out to solve the problem - and he had a prudent approach to problem-solving.

 

"We need at least three alternatives for one problem. If things still get out of hand after we try all the solutions, then we might have to chalk it up to bad luck," he says.

 

To deal with his unsold fresh shellfish, he hired a cold storage facility to keep the millions of abalone - whose cost could be as high as 10,000 baht per kilogramme if he included the investment costs of producing them.

 

"It was not a waste," he insists. "We could turn the abalone into sauce."

 

Although it was not cost-effective, it was better than letting the whole first batch spoil for nothing, he adds.

 

After further study, he decided to go back to the popular Japanese-Taiwanese abalone. The first stage was a struggle. The trial and error period lasted a year. At last, a training course in Australia led to his success in controlling water temperatures and the water-recycling system at the farm.

 

"Once we could control the temperatures, things went well. We could also manage nitrification - the process of removing abalone waste," he remarked.

 

The secrets, he says, are: To keep the temperature below 29C, to maintain regular water flow and to protect the abalone from sunlight.

 

Sitthisak proudly says his farm piloted research on the Japanese-Taiwanese abalone through crossbreeding, growth control, gene control and breed improvement. So far, he has invested around 30 million baht in research and development efforts. Its condominium-like units for rearing abalone won a National Innovation award last year. Each unit provides 10 tiered layers, each of one square metre, compared to the 250cm2 of a traditional enclosure.

 

"We may be the country's pioneer in warm water abalone culturing and remain the region's first and only abalone farm, but Malaysia and Vietnam, which are good at marine animal rearing, might become our future competitors," the vet says.

 

As his farm buys jade seaweed (sarai yok) and ulva seaweed (sarai phomnang) from Pattani farmers for up to 11 baht per kilogramme to feed the abalone, Sitthisak suggests that growing seaweed in shrimp farms for sale can be a profitable profession. Each rai can yield seaweed worth 20,000 baht every two months.

 

He recommends that Thailand work on research and development, environmental protection, quarantine ability and an economy of scale, if it is to become a world-class seafood producer.

 

Sitthisak says he has been more or less successful in his marine venture. Each year, his abalone farm on Sirey Island, Phuket, exports around 20 million live abalone as breeders, mostly to Taiwan.

 

The farm is poised to enjoy around 200 million baht in revenue next year. In terms of production, yields are estimated at 100 tonnes per year starting next October, and 5,000 tonnes per annum 10 years from now.

 

Yet Sitthisak wants to put two more jigsaw puzzle pieces together in his big abalone farm picture - to rear abalone on a larger scale with local farmers' participation, and to turn Thailand into a seafood giant. At least, Thailand must be the world's top-three abalone producer a decade from now - that's his humble hope.

 

"An important lesson I have learned is the virtue of being patient, to use your brain and to have good back-up plans. For me, my wife is my mentor," Sitthisak says.

 

"Success is not too far away for those who are smart and don't give up easily."


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