BFAR studying if pangasius harmful to local fisheries

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 March) — The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has launched scientific studies on the growth and breeding traits of the “exotic” Pangasius fish (Pangasius hypothalamus) to determine any possible harm that it might bring to the country’s fishery resources.

Lawyer Asis Perez, BFAR national director, said such move was part of their ongoing efforts to clean up the country’s inland fishery areas of infestations caused by various invasive fish and aquaculture species and eliminate their related threats.

“We just want to make sure that Pangasisus will not become the next golden kuhol or the janitor and knife fish disasters,” he said in a forum at the recent Mindanao-wide Environmental Media Conference held at the agency’s research vessel M/V DA-BFAR.

The official said BFAR is currently controlling or regulating the expansion of Pangasisus farms in any part of the country pending the conclusion of the studies.

He admitted that the regulation has so far led to the slowdown in the raising and production of Pangasius, which is widely known for its fillet products.

“If you notice, the local production of Pangasius has been on the decline. I must admit that we’ve been holding back its growth,” Perez said.

Pangasius, which belongs to the riverine catfish family, is “exotic” to the Philippines and is mainly found in countries within the Mekong Delta, bordered by the Tibetan Plateau through China’s Yunan Province, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

In the Philippines, Pangasius was introduced by private petshop owners in 1978 and subsequently by BFAR in 1981 for experimentation.

In 2009, The Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) regional operations and development group piloted the production of Pangasius in parts of Mindanao, among them in Region 12.

The region comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato as well as the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

As of December 2011, DTI said investments on Pangasius production reached P202.358 million and local production was seen then to reduce significantly the country’s Pangasius fillet exports from Vietnam that amounts to 600 metric tons per month and  valued at US$ 1.650 million.

But while the market prospects of Pangasius appear encouraging, Perez said they were not taking any chances with the fish species until they eventually complete their studies.

He cited the destruction caused by the “ill-advised” introduction several years ago of the golden kuhol, which is now among the top problems of palay farmers and inland fisherfolk in various parts of the country.

The official also noted the infestation of the highly-destructive janitor and knife fishes at the Laguna Lake and other river systems in the past decade.

He said BFAR has even resorted to testing the use of electricity in destroying the eggs of the knife fish, which is an ornamental but carnivorous fish species.

“We’ve been only successful so far with Tilapia. So we’re slowing down right now with the introduction of new species, not only with Pangasius, and we’ve been also strengthening our quarantine systems as a strategy to protect our fishery resources,” Perez said.

“Our intention might be good in introducing or promoting these new species but if we’re not familiar with their science, it might only lead to possible disasters later on,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)