By Mona Sabalones Gonzalez
Raising fish in underwater cages may seem mean, especially if one is a vegetarian. But it does have a benevolent side. The fish are protected from strong winds, mean ocean currents, overfishing and dynamite fishing, ensuring the continuity of many fish species.
Overfishing and dynamite fishing also affect the income source of many small fishermen, who go out to sea and discover at the end of the day that there is no catch. By mariculture--raising them in cages--the fish win, and the small fisher folk, too, at a profit margin of up to P90,000 per cage (some U.S. $2,000) in a four month period.
Mariculture used to be something only rich people could afford. A 100 square meter fish cage costs P300,000, (just short of U.S. $7,000) and financing an operation costs another P200,000 (a little over U.S. $4,600).
Now the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is making it accessible to small fishermen and medium investors. Small fishermen can rent a cage from the government and pay for it during harvest. Affordable credit can also be had from the Land Bank and other financial institutions.
Fish raised in cages include bangus, seabass, snapper, apahap, lapu-lapu, pompano, seargent fish, rabbit fish and others. Mariculture is also used to farm seaweeds, crabs, lobsters, abalone, sea cucumber and more.
A 100 square-foot cage filled with up to 20,000 fingerling bangus can harvest up to 20 tons of fish each weighing an average of half a kilo in four months. A mariculture farm needs just 100 hectares of water space. The mariculture park in Laoang, Northern Samar has 2,500 hectares.
BFAR is pushing this project aggressively with local government units, the DENR and NGOs among others. Some 60 mariculture parks are set to be launched soon.
Fishermen are trained by government-provided experts including training the caretakers, product development and environmental monitoring. Each park is governed by a management council chaired by the mayor of the city or town, and co-chaired by the BFAR regional director.