By Vina Medenilla
Milkfish (Chanos chanos), locally known as bangus, is the most valuable farmed fish in the Philippines in terms of production volume, use, and geographic distribution.
Except for the landlocked Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), bangus is cultivated in all regions of the country. Its production is also recorded in nearly all local provinces.
Bangus boasts a high adaptability as an aquatic species. It is capable of thriving in environments with a wide range of salinities, from freshwater to seawater.
It can be housed in a variety of enclosures ranging from earthen fishponds to bamboo fish pens to net cages. It can withstand temperatures from 10º to 40ºC but grows best at 25º to 32ºC.
Despite its high tolerance to diverse salinity levels, bangus thrives best at salinities ranging from 0.5 to 40 parts per thousand (ppt), making it suitable for aquaculture.
Milkish’s versatility makes it well accepted and valued across the Philippines. Milkfish was traditionally grown only in brackish water fishponds in the Philippines and in Indonesia. This is why the majority of the milkfish supply today comes from brackish water fishponds.
In other parts of the Philippines, milkfish is referred to as ‘bangros’ or ‘bangos.’ This fish has many names based on its maturity or size as well.
It is called ‘kawag-kawag’ when it is young, ‘haritin’ when it reaches 20-25 millimeters in length, and ‘garungan’ when it becomes 10 centimeters long and is ready for stocking. On the other hand, an adult milkfish with a length of 68-70 cm and a body mass of five to six kilograms is known as ‘sabalo’ or ‘awa.’
It consumes plant matter and small food items such as detritus. It can also be fed with artificial feeds. Bangus is a very efficient feeder as it can graze on algae and detritus found on the pond bottom.
This fish isn’t the type that devours each other when hungry, so they can be kept together in high densities. Fish cage operators usually stock 40 pieces of milkfish per cubic meter.
During the fingerling stage, milkfish growth can be controlled through intentional overcrowding, underfeeding, or both. When they are relocated to a more conducive environment, they grow quickly and make up for the time they were kept in poor conditions. This trait allows the preservation of fingerling banks for off-season stocking when fry supply is low.
Bangus are typically sold fresh and chilled. If desired, milkfish can be deboned at wet markets and select supermarkets for a small fee. Pre-packed boneless, marinated, and smoked bangus are also available. Other milkfish products include canned milkfish, fermented milkfish, and milkfish tocino.
There are numerous business opportunities linked with milkfish production, and fish processing is key to capitalizing on that potential.
The information provided above is from the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD)’s book titled “The Philippines recommends for milkfish.”