Milkfish: The King of Fish Part 2

Milkfish:  The King of Fish

by Henrylito D. Tacio  

Fry supply

Historically, milkfish fry abound in the country. In recent years, however, the number collected has been dwindling due to the destruction of natural habitats brought about by the extensive conversion of mangrove areas to fishponds, destructive fishing methods and environmental degradations, among others. Consequently, with the decrease in seed supply, the cost6 of fry and fingerlings has increased significantly over the years.

Normally, milkfish fry appears in different places and various seasonal peaks. Areas like Southern Leyte, Western Samar, Bohol, Negros Oriental and Occidental, Antique, and Iloilo have two peak seasons: March to July and October to November. Provinces like Cotabato and Zamboanga del Sur have fry available year-round.

“Livelihood Options for Coastal Communities,” published by the Laguna-based International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, says peak gathering days occur during high tides after two or three days following a new moon or a full moon. The gonadosomatic index (GSI) or peak-spawning season of milkfish starts in March to June and drops in August to September. During the breeding season, the rising GSI value coincides with rising seawater temperature. Spawning regularly occurs among five- to – seven yea old sabalo in the wild. Fertility is about 300,00 to one million eggs per kilogram weight of sabalo.

Several milkfish fry collection methods are practiced in the Philippines. This includes fry barriers of fences, seine nets and “bulldozer” nets.

The collected bangus fry are placed in well-ventilated containers, preferably wooden vats or big earthen jars filled with clean brackishwater. The containers must be kept in cool areas. Overexposure to sunlight should be avoided. The fry should also be brought to the concessionaires’ buying stations without delay.

Raising milkfish can be done using different production systems in freshwater and in brackishwater. Depending on the available resources and level of management, the culture methods can vary from the traditional or extensive systems, the modified extensive, to semi-intensive and intensive.

Milkfish can also be reared with other species. In freshwater ponds, milkfish can be cultured with mullet, tilapia, and carp with yields averaging 7,500 kilograms per hectare. In brackishwater ponds, shrimps, mudcrab, seabass, and seaweed are the most common species combined with milkfish.

According to the PCAMRD, the rates of stocking of the different species depend on their biological requirements, farmers’ preferences, and the market demand for the cultured products.

Is there money in raising milkfish? A study on the cost and returns of milkfish production was conducted by the agriculture department in the provinces of Bulacan, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental in 2001. The result shows that Bulacan incurred the highest average production cost at P32, 202 per hectare while in netted P41, 922. Average production costs per hectare were lower in Negros Occidental at P20, 390 and in Iloilo at P14, 047. The net returns were calculated at P15, 271 and P10, 746, respectively. Certainly, then, there is money in bangus production.

source: MARID agribusiness, January 2006 

Milkfish: The King of Fish part 1

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.