By Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III

Mariculture parks are areas in the sea that are similar to industrial parks or estates on land where the appropriate infrastructure such as roads, other facilities, and support services are provided to attract entrepreneurs/investors. In mariculture parks, the infrastructure provided are a mooring (anchoring) system for floating fish cages, fish landings, cold storage, etc. and support services for processing, transport, and marketing.

Milkfish sorters at the fish landing of the PCMP.

For an archipelagic country like the Philippines, mariculture (farming of fish and other species in the sea) appears to be the most promising source of products, particularly for its food security. Our country has 26.6 million hectares (ha) of coastal marine waters compared to only 842,247 ha of inland waters. Of the 4.5 million metric tons (mt) of fisheries production of the country in 2016, 50.54% was contributed by aquaculture (farming of aquatic species in water), 26.13% by municipal fisheries (fish capture in municipal or coastal waters), and 23.33% by commercial fisheries (fish capture beyond municipal waters). The bulk of fisheries production (consisting of fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and seaweeds) comes from aquaculture through mariculture.

Worldwide, aquaculture is considered the “fastest growing food-producing sector” and is seen as the main producer of fish and other aquatic food products in the future. With declining fisheries stocks in marine and inland waters due to overfishing and ecosystem degradation, mariculture is also regarded as an alternative livelihood for the more than 1.5 million municipal fishers in the country who are among “the poorest of the poor.”

In 2001, the concept of a “mariculture park” was first tried by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the coastal waters of Samal Island in Davao del Norte with three floating cages stocked with milkfish for demonstration. After its successful experience, the BFAR initiated the setting up of other marine parks in the country, either singly or in collaboration with local government units (LGUs) which are mandated by law to manage coastal waters in the country. One such demonstration park was that of Panabo City, a coastal city in Davao del Norte, which was set up by the BFAR in 2006. In 2009, the 330 fish cages in the coastal waters of Panabo City produced 1,999 mt of milkfish with a value of P160 million.

The Panabo City Council approved Ordinance No. 14, Series 2012 establishing the Panabo City Mariculture Park (PCMP) in the municipal waters of Barangays San Pedro, Cagangohan, and J.P. Laurel. The demarcated area of 617 ha for the PCMP includes a fish cage zone of 130 ha, a marine reserve zone of 40 ha, and a fish sanctuary zone of 13 ha. Marginalized fisherfolk were given preferential use of the fish cage zone. Legislative measures and policies were proposed for the “sound ecological balance, protection and management of the coastal resources of the park” and penalties were imposed on violators. Except for the marginalized fisherfolk, locators/investors in the PCMP pay the city government a lease permit fee of P1,100 per cage/year and a business tax of 0.3% of their gross sales.

Boneless milkfish produced by women-processors.

The BFAR established its National Mariculture Center (NMC) in Panabo City in 2015 “to develop and improve an integrated and sustainable mariculture industry in order to ensure available and affordable food for all Filipinos and improve the lives of poor fisherfolk.” As of 2015, there were 22 BFAR/LGU-managed and 20 LGU managed mariculture parks in 9 regions of the country.

As the partner of the City of Panabo in the management of the PCMP, the BFAR-NMC provides technical/advisory services and extension through education and training. It has conducted capability-building training programs for stakeholders, technology development and livelihood project promotion, promotion of mariculture tourism, operation of the PCMP facilities, environmental surveys, delineation of new mariculture areas, and an integrated mariculture development and value chain program.

The production of milkfish in a bamboo floating cage (10 x 10 x 4 meters) stocked with 15,000 fingerlings (P6/pc) and 2,000 fingerlings of rabbitfish (P4/pc), and cultured for 120 days with feeding of commercial pellets (6.5 mt) is valued at P617,508. With the costs for the cage (P100,000), feeds (P405,000), labor of one caretaker (P16,000), and maintenance/harvest/market (P20,000), the net income per cage/cycle is P85,500.

Aside from bamboo cages that last only 2-3 years, there are also more durable and longer-lasting cages that are more expensive like the “anahaw” and high density polyethylene (HDPE) cages.

The other high value fishes cultured in the cages are the grouper, pompano, and “kingfish” (hybrid red tilapia). For maintaining the “carrying capacity” of the culture area, only four cages per ha are allowed in the PCMP.

According to Dr. Andrew Ventura, Center Chief of the BFAR-NMC, the 405 fish cages of the PCMP produced 2,505.32 mt of fresh milkfish and rabbitfish with a total value (gross sales) of P239,306,628 as of November 30, 2017. Job opportunities for 137 fisherfolk composed of 69 caretakers, 38 women/processors, and 30 harvesters were provided.

The BFAR-NMC has extended technical assistance and advisory services to 10 other coastal municipalities in Mindanao which are setting up their mariculture parks.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2018 issue.