Filipinos have a very special relationship to the milkfish or bangus. It is at the very top of diet regardless whether people are rich or poor. The demand exceeds the offer. Although present in the entire indopacific area with water temperatures above 20 degrees, the milkfish belongs to the national symbols of the Philippines and it appears in folk tales as "king of fish". Currently, it contributes with 217,000 tons approximately seven percent of the national fish production. Considering the decline of fisheries in the most important fishing-regions in the world, its aqua-farming gets higher priority with regard to a cheap protein-supply of the population.
consternation was enormous when in Panggasinan
and Dagupan (Lingayen Golf) - centers of the Philippine aqua-farming -
in February 2002 a massive
fish kill occurred accompanied
with a radical drop in prices.
Before this incident a company in the region put its sales promotion in
internet under the slogan: „Our milkfish is probably the best milkfish in
the world “. Cause of the fish kill was an oxygen deficiency, which resulted
from polluted waters, congestion, overfeeding as well as increase of
temperature. Dead fish came on the market and the price per kilo plumbed for a
short time from 75 P to 15 P. And with this remark we are right in the topic.
The milkfish is comparable with a herring in large size or a grey mullet. It
is a plankton eater with metallic-silvery basic coloring and blue-green
markings on top and under. Fine small scales dress the streamlined body. It
has big eyes and a long fork-shaped final fin. On markets
the milkfish is normally offered in a size of 10 -15 cm length and a
weight of 75–500 grams. However as a fish in natural habitat, it can reach a
weight of 50 pounds, a length of 180 centimeters (!) and a maximum-age of 15
years. The milkfish is bony. Once a biologist has determined 66 bigger and
smaller bones. Removal of the bones can be a problem. But there are also
remarks that the bones lose their risks when
they are cooked in
vinegar-water. The milk-fish eats primarily (thread -) algae and other
micro-plankton, sometimes also worms and fish-eggs. Therefore it is not
necessary for the fish to have teeth but longer intestines.
milkfish is a powerful swarm-fish. It is not cannibalistic. That’s the
reason why it could be hold also
in higher density in cages or ponds. It is typical for this fish that it
can live in waters with different degree of salinity ( 0–100 ppt), provided
the change takes place gradually. The quickly growing coastal-fish thrives
best in brackish water zone, in which fresh and salty water is mixed. A
female sets aside several millions of eggs from March to May. They swim on the
water-surface. After 10-14 days fry
is slipping off. The aqua-farmers mainly use the fry for their commercial
size and strength of full-grown milkfish are attributes attracting anglers, especially as it swims in proximity of shores. In a provocative
manner the fish often presents its back-fins to the angler. But catches are
mostly incidental . „Stalking these fish may take days or weeks,
before you eventually hook one”. The fish is extremely mistrustful, doesn't
accept many baits and needs a lot of backing as it makes long powerful runs at
high speed. Successful anglers are reporting, that they managed to catch milk
fish of 10–11 kg. They used bread and imitates of blood-worm as baits.
in free nature are however extremely rare. Since more than 150 years
farm-fish is offered in the Philippines.
Milkfish is relatively simple to farm, it
grows up quickly and it is
relatively immune to illnesses. The fry is collected at estuaries and
shore-proximity in the months from April to July and transferred to hatcheries or nursery ponds. But nowadays,
larvae also can be produced in
artificial surroundings. This procedure guarantees a better continuity
of the production. Semi-intensive farming is using as fodder plant a
natural algae called “Lablab”, which is planted on the ground of
pond. Chicken manure can be a fertilizer for “Lablab”- Algae.
Sometimes old bread is used as fodder. Milkfish has a favorable
conversion rate. Only 1.4 kg fodder is needed to produce 1 kg farm-fish.
For comparison shrimps, crabs, salmons or groupers need 2 – 4 kg fish
or pellets to produce one kg. There are some terms and techniques with
regard to farming of milkfish.
the age of fish we speak from (a) nursery ponds, (b) from grow-out or
harvest-ponds. Nursery ponds have a stocking density (pcs/m3) from
75 – 100 fry and these stay in ponds round about four weeks to become fingerlings.
pens and ponds have different sizes. Cages reach 5m x 5m x 5m and there
are 20-50 young fishes per m 3 . Pens have an area from 0.5 –5 ha
and a depth from 3-4 m and there are 2-20 young fishes at the beginning. Ponds
are reaching 0.5 – 9 hectares. The depth is 25 cm (extensive farming) and can
reach 120 cm, if there is a intensive farming.
With regard to the water habitat there are three types: (a) freshwater, (b) brackish water and (c) marine water ponds. Freshwater ponds are rare in the Philippines (0.5%). Mostly they are used for farming of Tilapia-fish. They are more common in Taiwan. Brackish water ponds have a mixture of fresh and salty water from the sea. 94 % of the ponds in the Philippines are belonging to this type. Only 5 % of the ponds in the Philippines are marine water ponds. But there is a increasing demand for fish cultivated in this water habitat.
The three types of cultivation are (a) extensive, (b) semi-intensive and (c) intensive.
If there is an extensive farming, only robbery fish and competitors are removed. We find 0.2-6 fishes per m3 and the fish nourishes itself primarily from natural growing algae. Cultural period is 30 – 75 days and the harvest size 200 – 400 g. Gross yield per ha is 700 – 2000 kg a year.
Additional water and additional fodder is given if there is a half-intensive farming. Mostly these ponds have a stocking density of 0.8 – 1.2 young fishes per m3 and cultural period reaches 60 – 135 days. Harvest size is 300 – 500 g and annual hectare crop is 2000 – 4000 kg.
farming means, supplemental water gets pumped and there is an aeration
of water. Fodder is only given by the operators of pond. Stocking
density is more than 2 fish per m3 and culture period is 120
– 150 days. Harvest size is 300 – 500 g and gross yield per ha
amounts to 4000 – 12000 kg per year.
number of harvests per year can vary. In general there are 3-4 harvests a year.
If smaller fishes are cultivated, the number of harvests can increase to eight.
For tuna-fishing for example 75g-fishes are often used as living-baits.
Alsons Aqua Technologies (AATI) in Alabel, Sarangani province, is owner and operator of fish-farms with advanced mechanized technology. It has an area of 900 hectare for fish-farming with own larvae breeding station, adjustable installations for mixing of water as well as automatic feeding-lines.
normal case approximately 80–90 percent of the started young-fish are
surviving. But there are factors
which can minimize a crop:
Bad or too little fry. Actually the Philippines are depending on fry imports
from Taiwan because there is a lack of breeding
stations in the country
Bad management, for example by overstocking , wrong and overfeeding, lack of
oxygen and ammonia-poisonings
Inadequate water-quality. Pollutions and contaminations through uncleaned
waters in particular in the waters north of Manila
Natural disasters like typhoons or drought periods / snails or virus
For the year 2001 a crop of 217,289 tons of milkfish is reported, the production could be increased by six percent compared with the year 2000. A higher production in the near future depends on additional fry from new hatcheries. Leading place in production is Bulacan followed with further distance by Pangasinan, Iloilo and Capiz.
percent of the Philippine milkfish-production is bought up and marketed by
brokers („viajeros“). They get a commission of approximately 4–5 percent.
The prices for milk-fish fluctuate seasonal, higher prices are demanded in the
months of December until May. Average wholesale-price for one kg milkfish was
68 Pesos in the year 2000 - in
the retail, the average sale-price amounted to 82 Pesos.
farm-owners and brokers sell the milkfish on the province-markets. 660 tons
– that corresponds to less than a percent – went in the year 2000 into the
export. Main-buyers are the USA. Philippine exporters to the USA are
confronted with a price and quality-competition especially with regard to offers from
Taiwan. Now Taiwan has gained the market-leadership in the USA and offers
frozen fish more cheaply. Sometimes Philippine exporters have problems with
the quality of fish. As Mercie J. dela Cruz reports, container-freights of
exported milk-fish were already rejected from Laguna Lake because of muddy
taste. Experts argue,
Philippine producers should give more value to their fish by further steps of
preparation and should create
more convenience-products, especially since labor costs in the Philippines are
lower in comparison to Taiwan. Row fish can get more value by:
Boning and Filleting Salting / Marinating Smoking Drying
Offer of parts of fish / for example of belly , which is regarded as
are many recipes for preparing a milk-fish. Detailed recipes are given by the
(Inihaw na Bangus): Clean the fish, salt it, add pepper and lemon juice. Then
fill the fish with diced tomato-pieces and onions, cover it with foil
an bake it on a grill approximately 15 minutes per side.
filled milk-fish ( Rellenong Bangus): requires a
more extensive procedure. Remove the scales of fish, then clean and dry
it. Open at back. Solve the skin from meat and spice it with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a pan and roast garlic pieces brown and onion slices transparent.
Add a half cup of tomato cubes
and the squashed fish-meat. After cooking, still lemon-juice, peas, the
remained tomato-pieces as well as raisins are added. After repeated short
boiling lash an egg and fill
the fish with the mixture. Close the fish at the back and fry it
in sour broth, (Sinigang na Bangus): Perhaps you have to visit an
Asia-Shop because of the ingredients.
Remove the scales of fish, then cut it in 4–6 pieces and salt it. In an
extra pot, tamarind (Sampaloc) is cooked tenderly and the juice gets extracted.
Then on low flame, the tamarind-juice is cooked with onions and tomatoes. The
fish-pieces as well as eggplant-pieces, Okra and Kankong-leaves are added.
Spice it with salt and patis ( fish-sauce) and serve it hot. Alternatively,
spinach-leaves, banana-hearts or green beans can be added as vegetables.
The milk-fish in the fairy-tale
mentioned already that in a Philippine fairy-tale the milkfish appears as „king
of the fish “. It’s the fairy-tale “The Mermaid” („Ang Kataw“) we
refer to. It documents the high appreciation of the milkfish since primeval
times – even if there is a tragic end of story.
upon a time there lived a couple Juan and Juana near the sea side and they
were very delighted when Juana became pregnant after long years of childless. In time of her pregnancy however Juana became always very
restless if there was no milkfish to eat. A day came again and Juan could not
get any milk-fish. Sorrowfully he sat in his boat when he heard somebody calling his name. Looking into the water he saw a shiny
milkfish with a crown. The fish introduced itself as king of the fish and
asked him for the reason, why he would hooking only milk-fish. With sad
voice Juan mentioned the pregnancy of his wife and the fish-king felt pity. He
promised him: „I’ll give a
plenty of milkfish every day. In return however, you have to give me your
child, if it is seven years old”. Juan agreed, because it was already dark
and the milk-fish was rare in that season.
fish-king kept his promise. Now there was no lack of milkfish anymore.
Juana gave birth to a daughter with name Maria, who grew up to a lovely
girl with black hair. The luck of the family was unmarred up to the seventh
year of her daughter.
and Juana loved her daughter very much, so Juan went after the seventh year of
his daughter to the fish-king and asked him to release him from his
promise. But the milkfish king insisted on the promise of the fisherman. With
a heavy heart Juan went home and from now on the family did not go anymore to
the sea shore.
day however, a big beautiful boat appeared at the beach. The people flocked to
the shore to see it. Daughter Maria, who was alone at home, ran also curiously
to the beach. While watching the ship, a gigantic wave rushed up and moved
Maria into the sea. Since this time Maria remained vanished.
Years passed. But one moonlight night a lovely creature appeared to the couple. She had a long black hair. The upper body was that of a beautiful girl - the low body-half was that of a milk-fish however. Now, the parents knew that it was Maria.
© Wolfgang Bethge, 2002