Research & Development and Product Certification

Tri-way Tests New Finfish Species at Enping

“Unforgettable” Empurau and “Half Dragon-Half Tiger” Pearl Grouper

A key strategic advantage of the Tri-way business plan is its market-oriented approach in contrast to the traditional species-oriented approach pursued by most competitors. Species-oriented approaches are subject to sometimes unpredictable market forces or production catastrophes (e.g. disease, extreme weather, etc.) that must be endured, often squeezing profit margins. A market-oriented approach tends to maximize profits by engendering flexibility to readily adjust target species or production scenarios to meet rapidly changing consumer demands, gluts or deficits in supply, or to exploit a niche.

The SIAF APRAS design and production strategy being implemented for Tri-way is conducive to a market-oriented approach because the system is adaptable to a variety of fresh and saltwater aquaculture species and production scenarios. Such flexibility requires the identification of new species and their biological and economic feasibility to add to the production portfolio to prepare for any eventuality or opportunity that may arise in the market-place.

At Aquafarms 1 and 2 (AF1 and AF2) in Enping, trials are underway to examine the feasibility of two very highly-valued species for the China market. The Empurau (Tor tambroides), or “The Unforgettable” fish belongs to the big-scaled carps of the phylogenic family of fishes called Cyprinidae. Empurau are indigenous to Sarawak, in Malaysian Bornea, found only in specific rivers and highly prized across Malaysia, China, and Southeast Asia for its aromatic flesh quality.

Another target, the Pearl Grouper, a hybrid species called “Long Hu Ban” in Mandarin (roughly translated as half dragon, half tiger), is obtained from a cross between the giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) and tiger grouper (E. fuscoglutttatus). Because it is a man-made species, it is classified as Epinephelus lanceolatus x Epinephelus fuscoglutttatus. In the phylogenetic family, Serranidae, many species of grouper exist throughout Australia and the South China Sea region, with many hybrids created for aquaculture production over the past 10-15 years. The Pearl Grouper has gained particularly increased popularity by Chinese consumers because of its sweet firm flesh, and collagen-rich skin.

Although desirable in the marketplace, both species are considered among the most difficult to culture in captivity to obtain the desired flesh qualities that rank them among the most desired high-value species in China.


Known as the “wang bu liao” or, literally, “forget me not” fish in China, Empurau’s touted, unique, sweet and delicate flavor leaves its consumers with an “unforgettable” culinary experience. The aromatic quality of the flesh is obtained naturally from a diet of the wild fruit call buah kabong that fall into the rivers in which these bottom dwelling scavengers inhabit. In fact, prices range depending upon which part of the river it comes from, with larger sizes (3+ kilogram) fetching the highest prices of up to USD $300-500 or more/kilogram. Smaller specimens normally sell for about $100/kilogram at retail restaurants. Even the large scales of the fish are used as a culinary treat, deep fried and salted with a consistency and texture of potato chips. Today, the fish is rarely found in the market due to overfishing, which has prompted efforts towards its aquaculture development.

Image 1. Highly prized Empurau or “Wang bu liao” (The Unforgettable) fish. 

Several attempts to replicate the aromatic qualities of the Empurau flesh in an aquaculture setting in China have failed, with flesh quality being much less than desired or touted due to the use of standard live/trash fish and pelleted feed diets. In addition, only the larger specimens are considered prime, since smaller animals are generally too fatty, which lowers the desired flesh quality. Pond raised fingerlings are shipped to China and elsewhere, where they are raised to a larger size and sold to restaurants. Prices for these aquaculture animals are less than their wild counterparts, in part due to the inability to match the aromatic qualities of the flesh imparted by the natural diet of buah kabong.

In November 2016, SIAF staff traveled to Malaysia in search of a source of fingerlings and potential aromatic diet for use of this species. SIAF/Tri-way staff have established a partnership with one farm to test the feasibility of transported fingerling Empurau and the farm’s proprietary diet in APRAS tanks. Empurau normally grow slowly in the wild, about 0.5 kilogram/year.

As seen in the following video, trials on growth rate and flesh quality in APRAS tanks are ongoing, with an expected first harvest of marketable product around mid-2018. The animals are currently 250-300 grams, grown from fingerlings purchased at 3-centimeters.

Empurau-at-Enping_July-2017 from Sino Agro Food, Inc. on Vimeo.

If the growth and aromatic diet tests are successful, the feasibility of the species to fulfill a niche market in China will be evaluated. Efforts also will be initiated to find a practical diet solution using, more widely-available and cost-effective ingredients. Diet testing could also continue with other species (which may grow more rapidly) to impart the distinctive flesh qualities and create a new market niche.

Pearl Grouper

Like the Empurau, this species is also highly prized for its distinctive aromatic and flesh qualities. First hybridized at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah in 2006, this fish has rapidly gained popularity in Chinese markets. Also like the Empurau, attempts to impart the desired flesh quality using typical aquaculture approaches have met with little success. The desired texture for Peal Grouper is a soft and oily flesh. Generally, it is thought that only live feeder fish or trash fish can produce the desired flesh traits in this species. However, use of live fish as a feed is impractical in a large, commercial setting for a variety of reasons.

Image 2. “Long hu ban (half dragon, half tiger)” or Pearl Grouper 

Pearl Grouper is a sweet, firm-fleshed and collagen-rich fish, created from a hybrid cross between the giant grouper and tiger grouper. Highly prized steamed or in soup in China, this species is currently a target for large scale production at AF1 in Enping.

Currently, trials are underway at AF1 in Enping to raise Pearl Grouper to 1.2 to 1.4 kilograms from 350 to 500-gram stock purchased at local coastal farms. Live feeder fish are being used, but the facility will attempt to incorporate the use of practical diets if flesh quality is maintained. There is great market demand for groupers, particularly in China. In 2016, just over 150,000 metric tons of grouper were produced worldwide, with about 100,000 metric tons of that production in China alone. In fact, grouper is the third fastest growing finfish species in aquaculture today (just behind catfish and barramundi, respectively), with production increasing by over 165% from 2000-2016. Production is mostly in ponds or net pens. Fingerling production (wild and aquaculture) and lack of practical diet formulations are limitations to expansion. Proof of concept in APRAS tanks would be among the first demonstrated capabilities in recirculating aquaculture tank systems.


Both the Empurau and Pearl Grouper are highly-prized and well sought-after species in China. Their distinctive aromatic and superior flesh qualities fetch high prices. The successful implementation in APRAS tanks can have a positive branding effect to the Tri-way production portfolio of safe, healthy, and sustainably produced seafood.

To Learn More

Research & Development and Product Certification:

Tri-way Industries (TW):

Aquafarm 1 (AF1):

Aquafarm 2 (AF2):

Aquafarm 3 (AF3):

Aquafarm 4 (AF4) and Aquafarm 5 (AF5):

SIAF’s Carve-out Spin-off (“COSO”) strategy:

Other currencies