From building high-tech water systems to taking care of fishy friends, our co-founders Kane Mcguinn and Victoria Yoong spare no effort in keeping Atlas Aquaculture one of the best in class. Here’s a look at what gave them the motivation to start Atlas Aquaculture, as well as what keeps them going in this challenging journey.
How did you become interested in farming?
Kane: I grew up in Millmerran, a tiny town in Queensland, Australia, known as the “gateway to the outback”. We lived on a 22-acre farm, and my closest buddies were the pigs, ducks, chickens, fish and dingos!
When we moved to the city, I realised my buddies were also our meals. While I was horrified, I also had a quick understanding of how home-grown food tasted better than commercial imports. There’s more publicly available research on livestock farming over fish farming, so I have always been interested in learning more about aquaculture.
Victoria: I have always been pretty conscious of what I eat, particularly on the source of my food. One of my favourite snacks are fish balls, and I realised that the ones commonly available are mostly flour, flavouring and preservatives. My goal is to create bouncy, springy fish balls made from sustainable fish!
What gave you the push to start Atlas Aquaculture?
Victoria: My family has always been particular about what we eat, so from a young age, we have recognised that it is important to know where your food comes from.
At the start of the pandemic, the issue of food security became a hot topic. At the same time, we were given the green light to start Atlas Aquaculture at 94 Sungei Tengah Road. This gave us greater urgency and drive to get things up and running.
Kane: The land at 94 Sungei Tengah Road had been unutilised for over four years, and when we heard that the remaining lease was up for sale, we decided to give it a go. We won the bid, and here we are today!
What are some challenges of managing a land-based farm in Singapore?
Victoria: There are so many! The main challenges come from the lack of understanding about what we do. Atlas Aquaculture is not just any land-based farm - we are a 100% sustainable land-based farm. We have had so many naysayers tell us what we do is impossible. Well, they can come see for themselves!
Kane: Because there is limited public education on land-based farming, many people do not understand what we do. There is a general perception that land-based farming will not work because of its cost, or that the fish grown have a “muddy taste”. These misconceptions must be dispelled.
On cost, it is true that our capital expenditure may be higher than setting up a “kelong”, but our operating expense is lower as we require fewer people on premise and our fish mortality rates are under 9% in comparison to the typical 70% to 80% elsewhere. We can grow more with less.
For the latter, it is not widely known that the “muddy taste” people speak of comes from bacteria. At Atlas Aquaculture, our fish grow in brackish water, with different water parameters for each species. This prevents this type of bacteria from thriving.
What is your favourite part of the job?
Kane: There is always a lot of satisfaction in taking a step back and looking at what you have created with your own hands.
Victoria: Getting to eat fresh, quality seafood anytime I like!
Who is your biggest role model?
Kane: Dr Karl (@doctor_karl) spurred my interest in science. I did not enjoy school that much, but watching and listening to him made me want to know more about everything related to science, engineering, and technology!
Victoria: My daughter, Marin. She makes me want to be a better version of myself every day.
What are you most proud of when it comes to Atlas Aquaculture?
Kane: I am proud of our journey, and how far we have come in just two years. We have gone through many challenges, from bureaucratic red tape, to the fingerling crisis in Singapore, to one of our sales team members skimming a significant amount of cash from us. Despite all of that, we are still growing and thriving.
Victoria: We took over premises that had been abandoned for years. Within a span of 4 months, we managed to get things ready to run. Whenever I walk into our farm, it still catches my breath at how much we have transformed the place into a fully functioning, high producing farm.
I also feel immense pride whenever we share with others that we do not cart in any sea water. We see many farms bringing in containers full of sea water, which is not sustainable at all. But we have managed to engineer and build a system that is self-sufficient without damage to our environment.
What do you hope to see next for Atlas Aquaculture?
Kane: We are in the midst of engineering our next generation of systems; this time, version 3 that can increase our farm’s output to 400 tonnes per annum. We hope to build this by 2024.
Victoria: I hope that we can work closely with more like-minded restaurants and food providers, who believe in serving fresh, quality seafood to their consumers. Please support our local farms!
What is your ultimate goal for Atlas Aquaculture?
Kane: As our name says, we hope to have a presence all around the globe.
Victoria: To see Atlas Aquaculture’s seafood being served on all of Singapore Airlines’ flights!