AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Monday said he has directed the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to come up with necessary plans to rehabilitate and strengthen the country’s tilapia industry in one year.
“By that time, we will start our effort to earn the status of being one of the world’s top tilapia producers,” the DA chief said.
He said the DA is ready to provide funding for the improvement of the government-owned hatchery and facilities.
“On my part, I have directed BFAR to provide funding for the improvement of the hatchery facilities and purchase modern laboratory equipment,” Piñol said.
The Philippines is currently the fourth largest tilapia producer in the world, next to China, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. At present, the Philippines produces about 10 percent of the total world production of tilapia.
Pinol said the tilapia industry could have been a sunrise industry for the fisheries sector had it not been neglected by the BFAR for years.
Citing his recent visit to the fish section of Seafood City outlet in Irvine, California, one of the biggest chains of Filipino-owned stores in the U.S., Piñol said he was surprised that tilapia was being sold there for over $5 per kilo.
He said he was even more surprised to learn that their tilapia came from Taiwan and not from the Philippines.
“One of the brothers who owns Seafood City told me that there is a great demand for tilapia, including bangus (milkfish) from the Philippines but there is hardly enough supply sent to the U.S.,” he said. “Why can’t the Philippines then produce enough tilapia and bangus to satisfy the demand overseas?”
Piñol said he has asked one of America’s leading tilapia growers, Rocky French, to help make unbiased assessment of the state of the local tilapia and bangus industry,
French has a 40-acre Tilapia Farm in the middle of the desert in Coachella Valley in Southern California.
“In spite of the challenges in the desert where he has to pump out water from as deep as 1,000-feet and he has to contend with the cold winter and very hot summer, French has made his farm, AquaFarmingTech, one of the most successful and profitable fish farms in the US,” he said.
Piñol said that the neglect by BFAR was evident during an inspection conducted at the Naujan Tilapia Hatchery and the Bangus Hatchery in Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro and National Freshwater Fish Research Center in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.
“In the very vital facility for bangus fry production in Bongabong, French saw the neglect by the BFAR. The laboratory has no equipment and the breeders were fed with feeds containing less protein than that required for breeding,” he said.
“In Naujan, he saw a facility capable of producing up to 150 million fry but which was only turning out 3.5 million fry every year. In Muñoz, he discovered that the center was still breeding Niloticus, producing only 40 percent males,” he added.
Worse than the neglect for the fish breeding stocks is the injustice on the highly-skilled and talented workers, most of whom are fisheries graduates, many of them holding Master’s degrees, he said.
“They have been serving in the facilities as job orders receiving only P500 per day on a no work- no pay set-up,” he said.
Piñol said French has promised to share his knowledge and experience to rehabilitate the Philippine tilapia industry.
Starting October, BFAR workers will be sent to the AquaFarmingTech (aquafarmingtech.com) for a one-month exposure and training.
French has also promised to share with BFAR his tilapia breeding materials, which would produce 99 percent male. In Tilapia farming, males are preferred because they grow faster while the females are smaller because they spend their energy producing eggs.
Prior to Piñol’s takeover, the DA had been pushing to increase tilapia production to meet the domestic requirement and supply global demand.
Tilapia is fast becoming a bumper commodity for the Philippines, and has a big potential for export, DA experts have said.
In fact, BFAR has also created a Tilapia Roadmap of the Philippines which was presented during a series of consultations with the academe, research institutions, fishpond operators organizations, fisheries society offieers, and major suppliers of aquatic products, feeds and fingerlings.