Some 50,000 fingerlings of coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) from hatcheries in Hainan, China were delivered in Taytay, Palawan on Friday, December 22, while another set of 50,000 fingerlings arrived in Davao the following Tuesday, December 26.
The delivery of the 5-6 inch fingerlings of the expensive "suno" (local name of coral trout) is part of the first batch of mariculture stock donations for the Philippines culminating from the bilateral Philippine-China Joint Committee on Fisheries.
The fingerling importation will be spread in the next three years, a Philippine government source said.
Fingerlings take eight months in fish cages before achieving "plate size" weight which is marketable in restaurants in Hong Kong, Macau, and Shanghai, a source at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) which maintains conservation projects in Northern Palawan said.
The high value fish is fed "trash-fish" during this growth period, raising concern among environmentalists and food security advocates. "Trash-fish" is an industry term for second class fish catch that is actually fit for human consumption.
Live Reef Fish Industry
The live reef fish trade generates an annual value of US$810 million, according to a study commissioned by the Asian Development Bank.
Considered a boom-and-bust industry by economists and scientists, the trade which originated in Coron, Palawan in the 1970s has fanned out across equatorial waters in Asia and has reached Northern Australia, according to an extensive report for the United States Agency for International Development.
In the Philippines, the live reef fish trade is regulated by two contrasting laws. The Philippine Fisheries Code allows the export of live reef fish reared from state certified hatcheries, but prohibits the export of live fish caught from the wild.
The Local Government Code however, gives leeway to municipalities to self-regulate fishery in municipal waters and allow inter-regional transshipment of live fish between the provinces and Manila. Some local government units like Puerto Princesa and El Nido have an existing live reef fish trade ban.
Overfished Palawan Seas
To date, there are no viable hatcheries for the highly targeted live fish species in Palawan, Sulu, and Zamboanga.
To prevent a decline in the number and size of live reef fish captured in Palawan, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD, a national regulatory agency for Palawan's environment) has implemented a seasonal fishing regulation of specific fish species that are experiencing pressure from the trade.
The current regulation provides two seasonal windows for live fish capture (January to June, and September to October) alternating with two no-take periods.
The government measure has drawn criticism from key industry movers and subsistence fisherfolk who have become dependent on the high value transactions for targeted species. Live reef fish commands a value of P2,000 per kilogram in Northern Palawan.
These are sold to high-end consumers at US$100 per kilogram in traditional restaurants in Hong Kong where they are kept alive in display aquariums until they are steamed or poached, table-side.
The donation of juvenile stocks from Hainan is expected to ease pressure on natural spawning grounds of live reef fish species and assure continuity of livelihood activities of fisherfolk involved in the trade at grassroots level, a PCSD official said.
On hand to welcome the donation at Santa Cruz Port in Taytay, Palawan were officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR MIMAROPA), Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, Provincial Government of Palawan, and local governments of Taytay and San Vicente municipalities in northern Palawan.
The shipment left Hainan, China on December 14, but was reportedly delayed by rough seas due to typhoon Urduja (international code "Kai-Tak). — LA, GMA News