SAVING THE MILKFISH INDUSTRY THROUGH LOCAL PRODUCTION OF HATCHERY-BRED FRY
THE MILKFISH ( Chanos chanos), known locally as “bangus,” is the largest food fish species farmed in the Philippines and is hailed as the country’s national fish. It is a R50 billion (B) industry, contributing 17% of the total local aquaculture production in 2014 and constituting 15% of the total fish consumption by Philippine consumers. There are only three countries in the world that commercially produce milkfish as a food fish: the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Beginning in the 1950s, the Philippines was the world’s largest producer of milkfish. However, Indonesia caught up with the country’s production in the 1980s, and now, the Philippines ranks second to Indonesia in terms of milkfish production.
GROWTH IN MILKFISH PRODUCTION Early records of milkfish farming in the Philippines indicated at least 400 years of culture experience. From 1950 to 1983, milkfish production was steadily rising with an average growth rate of 8.1% (Figure 1). However, not all is rosy in the milkfish industry. Production from 1984 to 1996 started to decline, with an average growth rate of -3.7%, as indicated by line AB in Fig. 1. This was primarily due to the significant decrease in the supply of wild-caught fry, which traditionally served as a source of seedstock for grow-out operators.
The supply of wild milkfish fry rapidly declined for several reasons: a) degradation of traditional fry grounds due to overfishing; b) decrease in the number of wild “sabalo” or broodstocks; and c) pollution of coastal waters due to industrialization. Due to the diminishing availability of wild-caught fry from coastal breeding grounds, milkfish production in the country started to depend heavily on imported fry from Taiwan and Indonesia.
DEVELOPMENT OF MILKFISH HATCHERIES IN ASIA The milkfish hatchery technology was jointly developed in the 1970s by aquaculture scientists from the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia under the leadership of the Aquaculture Department (AQD) of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC). However, commercialization of hatchery-bred fry started only in the 1990s under the initiative of Taiwan, followed by Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Milkfish GAINEX Project: Because of the urgent need to