Milkfish: The King of Fish
By Henrylito D. Tacio
Milkfish, more popularly known among Filipinos as bangus, is considered a national icon as it is part of the country’s national heritage. Found in the entire Indo-Pacific area with water temperature above 20 degrees, milkfish appears in folk tales as “king of fish”.
Because of the Filipinos special preference for milkfish, it is one of the most-often cultured fish in the country.
“Milkfish has always been the most important species cultured in the Philippines in terms of area and production,” reports fishery expert Simeona Aypa.
The top milkfish producing provinces are Bulacan, Pangasinan, Capiz, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental. A report by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) show that the combined production of these five provinces alone accounts for almost 50 percent of the country’s total bangus production.
For a very long time, the Philippine aquaculture industry was virtually synonymous with milkfish culture. The introduction of marine cages has greatly expanded the range of culture systems under which milkfish is now being produced: brackishwater ponds, fish pens in freshwater lakes, fish pens in shallow bays, lake based cages whether fixed or floating and sea-based cages. Perhaps no other aquaculture species has a wider range of environment and culture systems under which it is being produced.
“Commercial production of milkfish in the Philippines dates back more than a century ago although significant growth of the industry was realized only in the last three decades,” reports the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD). “Several economic activities stem from milkfish farming. These include fry collection, nursery operation, processing, marketing and other related services such as ice making and fish transport.’
A recent study show that total milkfish supply has been increasing. In 1998, the reported milkfish supply was at 165,458 metric tons. It increased to 232,342 metric tons by 2002. Of the total supply, 99.75 percent utilized as food and less than one percent was exported.
Unlike most fish, milkfish adapts to marine, brackishwater, and freshwater environment. From 1998 to 2002, milkfish production in the country grew at an average annual rate of 9.44 percent.
“Annual average production during the five-year period was 202,144 metric tons,” noted Crisanto Castillo, author of the BAS report. “OF this total volume, 179,735 were produced from brackishwater, 11,903 metric tons were harvested from freshwater, and 10,506 metric tons from marine water.”
In 2002, the average yield of milkfish per hectare of fishpond is 0.82 metric ton. Previously, it was only 0.75 metric ton per hectare of fishpond.
“Milkfish farming in fish pens and fish cages from marine environment had higher yields at 30.72 metric tons per hectare,” said Castillo in his report. “This was way above the average production in brackishwater fishpond at 0.74 metric tons per hectare, and freshwater fishponds at 2.53 metric tons per hectare.”
In 2002, milkfish farming in brackishwater environment had the biggest production but had the lowest productivity. In brackishwater fish pens and fish cages, average yields per hectare were high at 59.54 metric tons and 129.78 metric tons respectively.
“The high yields from brackishwater pens and cages were the result of bigger milkfish produced in smaller areas,” Castillo noted.
Milkfish commands a high price in the domestic market. From 1998 to 2001, average producers’ and retail prices of milkfish exhibited an upward trend: from 52.98 percent to 57.67 percent at farm gate and 79.58 percent to 82.50percent at retail. But in 2002, however, prices dropped by 6.14 percent at farm gate and 4.34 percent at retail.
Some studies have shown that price of milkfish is relatively high during the months of December to May and low in June to November. Monthly prices vary by eight percent below and above the prices of the average month.
There is also a market for milkfish outside the country. Between 1998 and 2002, milkfish exports have grown. The volume of milkfish exports averaged 359.87 metric tons with an annual growth of 46.06 percent. In 2002, exports reached 589.27 metric tons valued at US 1.8 million dollars. About 45.81 percent of the total quantity exported was in frozen form and 30.79 percent was whole or in pieces.
The Philippines exports milkfish in different forms such as smoked, dried, marinated, frozen and canned products. These are exported to Australia, Canada, Japan, United States, Switzerland, Qatar, Singapore, Hong Kong, Guam, and Lebanon. In 2002, 14,863 kilograms of fresh/chilled milkfish were exported to Guam alone. Also in 2002, the US was the biggest buyer of frozen milkfish (89,169 kilograms). Canada bought 53,687 kilograms of smoked fish from the country in the same year.