A Fishy Story: Laguna, Quezon receive P30K-worth tilapia stock

Noel Angelo S. Arboleda

[NEWSFEATURE] In line with BFAR’s mission of providing livelihood assistance in aquaculture, the CALABARZON regional office (BFAR IV-A) continues to support small-time fish farmers through the Tilapia Broodstock and Fingerling Production and Dispersal Program.

BFAR IV-A’s extension office in Bambang, Los Baños houses nursing tanks where tilapia stock for dispersal are stored.

On July 8, BFAR IV-A transferred around 100,000 fingerlings and 8,000 breeders worth 30,000 pesos in total from their extension office in Bambang, Los Baños to municipalities in Laguna and Quezon.

BFAR farm technicians along with municipal agriculturists from Sta. Cruz and Victoria, Laguna and Real, Quezon dispersed tilapia stock to more than ten requesting fish farmers.

This is just one of the many requests approved by BFAR IV-A in a month as part of their tilapia dispersal, an assistance program for farmers venturing in the field of aquaculture.

In 1970, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources started the program to support low-income fish farmers in growing tilapia, a popular fish in the region. Originally, the Tilapia Broodstock and Fingerling Production and Dispersal program existed with a “stock now pay later policy” wherein requesting fish farmers are loaned fish stock (fingerlings and breeders) which they have to pay after harvesting period.

Due to tilapia’s popularity as a fish that is relatively easy to raise in fresh and saltwater conditions, the Department of Agriculture increased funding for tilapia research and production in 1990. This allowed BFAR to drop the loaning system and provide each requesting fish farmer with up to two free stock grants of 500 – 100,000 tilapias each.

According to Ms. Julia Arida, Officer in Charge of the BFAR IV-A Extension Training and Communications Division, interested parties only need to send a letter of request addressed to BFAR IV-A regional office in Diliman, Quezon City. Few requirements such as the amount of fish stock requested, farm measurements and address specified in the request letter are needed. This is done in order for the program to be more accommodating to low-income fish farmers.

Processed requests are then sent to the Extension office in Bambang, Los Baños for verification. During this phase, BFAR farm technicians are sent to different farms to conduct measurements and logistical surveys. This ensures that the amount of stock requested by farmers is applicable to the size of their growing facility, preventing cases of overstocking which may result to fish kill.

Mr. Dionisio Zapanta, BFAR IV-A farm technician, said the tilapia is popular not only to consumers but to producers as well because it is a very adaptive fish, known to survive in harsh conditions. “Tanggalan mo lang ng konting kaliskis ang bangus o galunggong, mamamatay na yun. Ang tilapia, kahit wala nang kaliskis, makakalangoy parin (Take off some scales from a milkfish or a mackerel scad and it’s bound to die, while a tilapia can swim with hardly a scale left),” Zapanta explained. However, he cautioned that inadequate space for the fish to grow causes stress which may kill the tilapia. That is why verification of farm size is important.

Through years of the BFAR Tilapia Dispersal program, technicians have encountered fish breeders lacking basic knowledge in tilapia breeding. To address that, BFAR IV-A provides seminars and modules on tilapia breeding in order to help starting farmers in their business. Trainings are conducted by BFAR specialists who come to the farms of beneficiaries needing assistance. Aside from this, tilapia breeders can also download the training modules from the BFAR IV-A website.

According to Mr. Zapanta, proper knowledge in tilapia is crucial in the business; it’s not just a matter of feeding the fish and you’re set. Overfeeding tilapia stock is a bad as underfeeding it as they might die from fishmeal residue contaminating their tanks.

Farmers need to be familiar with the tilapia’s breeding season as to successfully inseminate tilapia breeders for reproduction. “Madami talagang matigas ang ulong nagsasayang lang ng stock namin (There’s just a lot of hard-headed farmers just wasting our stock,)” Mr. Zapanta added, stressing the importance of basic training for starting fish farmers as the provincial office has experienced cases of failed businesses due to improper breeding practices.

Last May 28, a massive fish kill incident hit Taal, Batangas wherein approximately P57 million pesos worth of milkfish and tilapia. The incident affected 27% of Metro Manila’s supply of two of the country’s most popular fish. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and BFAR were the government bodies primarily involved in the investigation of the incident.

When asked regarding the effect of the fish kill to BFAR IV-A’s tilapia dispersal program, BFAR IV-A Farm Technician Mr. Alfredo Fang replied that it has not affected their fish stock. He clarified that BFAR IV-A along with the other 15 provincial offices around the country, gets their tilapia from the bureau’s main breeding farm in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.

According to Mr. Fang, the incident in Taal Lake was caused by abrupt changes in water temperature. The water on the surface of the lake suddenly became cool, forcing the heat from the bottom to rapidly rise. In BFAR’s case however, their tilapia grown in Muñoz are stored in fish tanks providing the fish with a controlled environment, unlike the cages in Taal where the stocks are susceptible to sudden changes in temperature.

Among the 16 provincial offices of BFAR throughout the country, the CALABARZON provincial office is considered as the pioneer in Tilapia Breeding research. The provincial office is also the first to implement the Tilapia Broodstock and Fingerling Production and Dispersal Program. On the average, BFAR IV-A disperses a total of 300,000 fingerlings and 25,000 breeders in a month catering to around 10-12 individual tilapia breeders.

But despite the bureau’s efforts to provide assistance to small-time tilapia farmers through tilapia dispersal, still, there are some gaps that must be considered for the improvement of the program.

Mr. Raymond Jogus, a tilapia farmer for 17 years in Calauan, Laguna noted that individual requests take too long to get approved by the bureau. “Masyadong matagal, ang daming nakapila, eh hindi aari yan pag may hinahabol kang schedule (It takes too long because of a lot of pending requests, and that won’t do if you’re following a tight schedule,)” said Mr. Jogus.

Mr. Raymond Jogus has been raising tilapia in his farm (below) for 17 years.

Aside from the usual delays in the approval of stock requests, Mrs. Herminia Paunil, a former tilapia farmer in Calauan, said that BFAR’s tilapia is a bit challenging to raise.

She explained that this may be attributed to the fact that BFAR produces its tilapia in Pampanga, noted for its brackish water. She added that the tilapia may be more accustomed to a more saline condition and may take time to adjust to Laguna’s fresh water.

It’s a fact that tilapia breeders like Mr. Jogus, follow a strict schedule of operations, as one has to consider time-specific factors involved such as the breeding season and spawning season in tilapia production. With tilapia farming as their main source of livelihood, most fish farmers cannot afford to deal with problems that would impede their production and make them lose a harvest. Because of this, a lot of farmers are resorting to private breeders for their supply of fingerlings and breeders rather than rely on the free assistance program offered by BFAR.

In response to this, Ms. Arida said that the bureau still aims to improve its Tilapia Broodstock and Fingerling Production and Dispersal Program through continuous research on the field of tilapia breeding.

Through feedback data (tilapia growth rate, survivability rate, reproduction rate, etc.) given by the beneficiaries of the program, BFAR IV-A aims to improve the quality and increase the production of their tilapia stock to be able to cater to more individuals interested in making tilapia breeding their livelihood.

Currently, the BFAR IV-A regional office is located at the NIA Complex in Diliman, Quezon City, while its Extension Office is located in Bambang, Los Baños, Laguna.  Local fish farmers interested in the Tilapia Broodstock and Fingerling Production and Dispersal Program may contact the BFAR IV-A regional office through landline at +63(2)926-8714.

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