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Philippines fish hatcheries restart operations following volcano eruption


April 8, 2020
By Ruby Gonzalez

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All is calm again in Taal Lake after over a month of heightened volcanic activities put a halt on fish cage operations. {Credit: Jonas Casalme Solis)

Fish farmers around the vicinity of the Taal Volcano in the Philippines have started the journey to recovery after nearly 50 percent of fish cages in the area were devastated by the recent volcanic eruption.

To help with the restoration, the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said it will distribute 152 million tilapia and one million milkfish fingerlings to fish farmers affected by the eruption. These two are the most popular culture species in the area, located in the province of Batangas, about 110 kilometers south of Manila.

Almost 45 percent of the 6,000 fish cages in Taal Lake were damaged during the month-long heightened volcanic activities which began on January 12. A Batangas lockdown was implemented during a portion of this period.

Fallen volcanic ash resulted in short-term physical and chemical changes in water quality, particularly concerning turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and nitrate and phosphate.

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Getting back to normal
“In general, Taal Lake water quality is slightly improving and getting back to its normal status supporting aquaculture. No long-term impacts can be deduced from the eruption,” Krystine Esciosura, officer-in-charge, BFAR Provincial Fisheries Office-Batangas, tells Hatchery International.

During the period of heightened volcanic activities, fish cage operations shut down, save for efforts to salvage whatever fish farmers could from the cages. In a normal situation, harvest of tilapia and milkfish from the fish cages are between 120 to 150 metric tons a day.

Total loss to fish operators in the 234-square-kilometer lake was estimated at over P1.77 billion (US$35 million), according to Esciosura.

“As a quick response or assistance program, we coordinated with the Agricultural Credit Policy Council and the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation and local government units to assist the affected fisherfolks from Taal Lake municipalities to avail of Sure Aid Loan for their livelihood assistance,” says Nenita Kawit, of BFAR-Batangas Inland Fisheries Technology Outreach Station.

“The BFAR also submitted a rehabilitation plan for the quick response fund and one of those assistance is the provision of tilapia and milkfish fingerlings to the affected fisherfolks in Taal Lake.”

During the lockdown, a good number of hatcheries catering exclusively to Taal Lake and other Batangas towns were left with inventories with nowhere to go.

Taal Lake is surrounded by five municipalities all involved in fish cage operations. Demand from these alone would usually make the hatchery business very profitable.

Lockdown
All the clients of LC Tilapia Hatchery are in Batangas. Seventy percent is in Laurel, a Taal Lake town. That the remainder is in San Luis, a town away from the danger zone, didn’t give him any respite. “There was a lockdown in Batangas so there was practically no deliveries and pick-ups,” owner Louieson Ilagan says. “One hundred percent of hatcheries in Calauan had been affected by low demand from Batangas.” Calauan is in Laguna, a neighboring province of Batangas.

If there was any consolation, it would be the volcanic ashes that blew over his farm, which served as nutrients for the fish, he says.

LC business for January and February, when he would normally sell 5.5 million tilapia fingerlings, was severely affected. His annual production is 72 million fingerlings. Deliveries to Batangas started bouncing back to normal levels by the second week of February. “Not too many fish cages were damaged in Laurel and San Luis,” he said.

That bout with the eruption has taught him the wisdom of not putting all his eggs in one basket. “To improve our business, we have already tapped new markets in other areas – like Northern Luzon,” he says.

One hatchery with diversified markets emerged unscathed. Rock Fin Fish Farm in Calatagan, Batangas, was spared from the ashfall because of wind direction. They supply milkfish fingerlings to many clients in the Taal vicinity. While deliveries were disrupted by the lockdown, he just had to look at his wait-list for orders to divert the destination of his inventory.

Business as usual
“The eruption has not caused any loss of business to us as we have a lot of customers. And we are perpetually out-of-stock – we cannot meet our demand,” says Rock Fin Fish Farm owner Alain Alafriz.

Aside from milkfish, Rock also produces brown marbled grouper in its hatchery.

Fingerling demand is high in the Taal vicinity, Alafriz notes. One former client was one of the biggest operators there. “From what I remember, they operate around 2,000 cages. Each cage has a capacity of up to 100,000 milkfish. They have two cycles a year…They have a standing order. Just deliver to them whatever you have as long as the fingerlings are over two grams and the total volume you can deliver is 100,000 pieces minimum.”

He did business with them from 2017 to 2018 but had to discontinue because of acclimatization factors. “Our fingerlings are so used to a high-salinity environment. Taal is zero salinity.”

This zero-salinity environment is home to Sardinella tawilis, the world’s only freshwater sardine, and was designated an endangered species in 2017. There is a concern about how the species fared during the recent volcanic eruption and BFAR is currently working on a conservation program.

“A project, Artificial propagation of Sardinella tawilis, will be conducted starting this year until 2021 by BFAR-National Inland Fisheries Technology Center in collaboration with BFAR IV-A and NFRDI-Freshwater Fisheries Research and Development Center, with the aim of conducting induced breeding, nursery larval rearing and determining bio-physio-chemical water parameters suitable for breed and culture of tawilis,” Kawit says.


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