I’ve only ever seen orange-coloured crayfish – they’re cooked ones. But in a semi-detached house in Alor Gajah, Malacca, I was amazed to see live ones – their colours are a gorgeous, greenish-blue hue. And surprise, surprise – they’re locally bred.
For three years, Effendy Halily Halili has been farming the crustaceans at home using aquaponics, and is also teaching people the same. Aquaponics combines aquaculture and water-based plant cultivation. Water from the fish tank is sucked into a planter box to nurture vegetables, and the plants function as a filter that keeps the water clean for the fish, so there is no foul effluent. The technique emerged as a combination of rearing fish and growing greens but practitioners have improvised the system to also rear crayfish and shrimps.
Effendy’s love affair with the crustacean started in 2012 when he received some red claw crayfish fries from a relative in Australia.
“For someone who has never even held a fishing rod in his life, I didn’t know what to do with them, so I just left them in a box. Some died but some survived and started breeding. So I began to learn how to take care of them.”
He bought an aquaponics system to house the freshwater crayfish and his interest grew from there. However, he found that the system, designed for cultivating fish, was unsuitable for crayfish – they dislike the sudden change in water level. He tinkered with the pumps and pipes and developed a system with continuous flows, so the water level remains constant. The crayfish loved that environment and soon, multiplied.
Though he started growing crayfish and vegetables merely to get chemical-free food for his family, he soon saw a business opportunity as people wanted to buy the crayfish. Encouraged by the interest, he designed a compact aquaponics system for households. “The objective is for the system to feed every household, especially those living in high-rises.”
The simple set-up consists of a four-drawer storage stand – like those used in many households. The uppermost drawer is for planting, the second drawer is for the filter, the third drawer holds some crayfish, and the bottom drawer is multi-purpose. The set of drawers sits in a bigger tank which holds the crayfish and guppies (to eat up mosquito larvae).
In 2013, his aquaponics system won first prize in the National Innovation Agency’s competition for ideas on new products. The award included a RM30,000 grant to train 30 people on farming crayfish at home. “But I trained 130 people instead,” says Effendy, 43, formerly an auditor. “I saw that many people wanted to learn aquaponics … they wanted to avoid chemicals in their food. From then on, I started promoting it.”
To date, some 500 people have undergone his crayfish farming course. A few have built big set-ups to produce enough food for their communities, but most do aquaponics for their own consumption. In his training workshop, he provides the aquaponics system, know-how to operate it, and crayfish. The RM500 basic system comes with 10 crayfish, the RM1,000 medium-size system with 40 crayfish, and the RM3,000 system with 100 crayfish.
They take between six and eight months to reach a mature size of 15cm to 20cm. The females start bearing eggs at around three months. The big-sized ones have eggs once a year, while smaller ones, up to four times.
Effendy says crayfish farming requires clean water of the right temperature and pH. It does not help that our tap water is chlorinated and distribution pipes, often dirty. To ensure only clean water flows to his tanks, he has installed a water filter.
In his porch, pots of chillies, fig seedlings, tongkat ali, mulberry and kangkong sit above fish tanks housing crayfish, tilapia, catfish and marble goby. He has not bought fish from the market for the past year. His small set-up means he can only grow a small number of crayfish, so he does not sell them commercially. He once turned down a request from a hypermarket chain for a weekly supply of 50kg of crayfish.
This might change in the near future. He is setting up an aquaponics farm on a leased 0.2ha piece of land near his house. It will have big ponds to rear crayfish, as well as chalets for those undertaking his training course. If all goes well, crayfish may well become a staple on dinner tables, just like shrimps.
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