Sleek and silvery, beloved because of its mild, sweet flesh and its melt-in-the-mouth belly fat, the milkfish or bangus, our national fish, is a favorite Philippine fish. Today, bangus is making waves in such countries as United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong where Filipinos are either working or living.
The Philippines is one of the top bangus producers in the world, along with Indonesia and Taiwan. “Until recently, the country has contributed around 55 percent share of the world bangus production,” reports the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD).
Bangus is one of the most important fishes raised by Filipinos. Because of its adaptability to aquaculture, it is widely cultured in brackishwater fishponds, fishpens and recently, in marine cages. Data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) of the Department of Agriculture on bangus production by sector showed an increasing trend from the aquaculture sector: from 210,882 metric tons in 1990 to 360,018 metric tons in 2004.
On the other hand, bangus production in the municipal sector showed decreasing trends: from 2,869 metric tons in 1990 to 438 metric tons in 2001. In 1995, the municipal sector contributed 7,466 metric tons of the total production of 158,615 metric tons harvested that year. In the commercial sector, bangus production was posted at six metric tons in 1990 and went up to 222 metric tons in 1997 but went down to five metric tons in 2001 (a trend that started in 1999).
PCAMRD reported that bangus production is expected to ascend, based on current trends, to 382,000 metric tons in 2008 and 451,000 metric tons in 2010 (as assumed at 11 percent annual growth). As President Gloria Macapagal-Arrovo said during the First Bangus National Congress, the country was expected to reach to major markets/countries with exports volume of 15,000 metric tons “in five years time.”
The Philippines exports bangus in frozen, canned, dried, smoked or marinated forms. Banguts in frozen form is exported in 30 countries.
Those in canned form are sent to 23 countries and dried or smoked bangus are sold in 17 countries. The United States, Saudi Arabia and Guam are major export markets for specific product forms.
In the local front, domestic consumption of bangus is expected to increase, too! In order to meet the demand of the growing population, the Philippines will have to expand production at the rate of 5 percent per year. Per capita consumption of bangus is estimated to be 1.96 kilograms per year.
Bangus is nearly related to tuna and salmon because of its fusiform shape and migratory nature. There is only one species of bangus (”Chanos chanos”) known all over the world and most of them are found in the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.
According to PCAMRD, Taiwan is adopting the intensive culture system because of its limited area for fishpond development. It involves stocking of 10,000 to 25,000 fish per hectare, use of mechanical aerators and feeders and stock manipulation in deep-water ponds. With this method, Taiwan can produce 8,000 to 12,000 kilograms per hectare compared to the national average production of 300 to 1,000 kilograms for Indonesia and 600 to 800 kilograms for the Philippines.
In the Philippines, bangus production is primarily dependent on the availability of brackishwater fishpond (over 190,000 hectares), fertilizers, pesticides, lime, fishfarm implements such as nets and bancas and special equipment like aerators and pumps particularly for the intensive method.
Is there a way the Philippines can still compete with other bangus exporting countries? The answer is affirmative, if the country ANA only do the following suggestions from PCAMRD:
- Increase production of export-sized fish (500-600 grams) should be done through the low-intensive method, considered the best technology for producing high quality bangus at lower cost;
- Initiate in processing milkfish into value-added products to create a good expert market demand at attractive prices; and
- Continue allocate funds from the government in the form of credits to support private sector activities.
Because of its flavor, bangus is a favorite all over the country. In Metro Manila, bangus is rated first-class. The popularity of bangus can be gleaned in such recipes as “Btlnyus en Tocho” (fried bangus served with a sauce of either “tahure,” “tokwa” or “tausi’), “Bulanglang na Bangus” (with eggplants, ampalaya, sitaw, malunggay, onion, tomatoes, rice washing and “bagoong”‘), Rellenong Bangus” (formerly a party dish; now available even in school cafeterias), “Bangus Lumpia.”
There are several excellent sources of bangus in the country. One of the most important sources is Dagupan City. A couple of years back, bangus brought fame to the city after beating Pent with the longest barbecue title in the Guinness Book of World Records. A report disseminated by news agency Bukithit carried this information: ‘Talk of bangus, however, and you talk of thousands of families here making a living from this industry. Commercial fishing trade has flourished with families engaged in the processing of bangus, or deboning. Wonder how many children are raised and brought to school - and even opulence to a few - because of this.”
Here’s a report published in a national daily on the significance of bangus in Dagupan City: “Bangus plays an important role in the city’s economy as its production, trade and processing benefit hundreds of fishpond owners, caretakers, fish vendors and processors. Every day, about 30 tons of bangus are harvested in the city’s fishponds. Records of the city agriculture office showed that almost 1,000 hectares of fishpond owned by 540 fish farmers grow bangus. The production is complemented by 28 hectares of fish cages in the city’s rivers owned by 850 businessmen.”
Filipinos living or working abroad can always buy bangus of the Alsons Aquaculture Corporation based in General Santos City. "We follow where our fellow Filipinos go. They are still our biggest market. This way, we make them feel like they are still in the Philippines because they can easily buy bangus products," Laurente Montilla, Alsons processing plant manager, told a local daily.
The idea of selling bangus in countries where Filipinos abound was the brain child of Alejandro Alcantara. Marketed tinder the brand name Sarangani Bay, Alsons processed fresh frozen deboned bangus, fresh frozen marinated deboned bangus, frozen smoked deboned bangus, and the all-time favorite “Relleno.”
“Named after the marine sanctuary it calls home, Sarangani Bay has built a reputation for growing and processing premium aquamarine products.” Alcantara said.
Alsons blazed the export market for bangus through its sprawling 300-hectare fishponds sitting in the vast Alcantara estate that measures more or less 1,000 hectares. “Per week, we can harvest 80 tons to 90 tons of bangus in different sizes,” Montilla said, adding their daily average, from Sunday to Friday, hits at least 15 tons. Efforts are going on to expand the fishpond areas by about 70 hectares more to meet the growing demand locally and internationally, Montilla said.