Fresh catch: Commercially caught freshwater fish in the Philippines

Nile tilapia, the most commercially-caught freshwater fish in inland waters. (Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III)

The Philippines is endowed with more than 400,000 hectares of inland waters consisting of lakes, marshes, rivers and reservoirs. In such waters abound freshwater fishes, mollusks and crustaceans.

Inland waters are part of the country’s municipal waters which include marine coastal waters from 15 kilometers of the shoreline. The total fisheries production from municipal waters (both coastal and inland) was 1.13 million metric tons (mt) of which 18.6% (205,538.41 mt) was from inland waters, according to the Philippine Fisheries Profile for 2021 of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Fishing in municipal waters is done by small fisherfolk with boats having three gross tonnage (8.49 cubic meters) or less using non-active fishing gear such as hooks and lines, gill nets and traps. Of the more than 1 million registered municipal fisherfolk, more than 50,000 are believed to be fishing in inland waters.

While there are many fishers in inland waters who fish for self-consumption (subsistence), there are more who fish for their livelihoods and incomes. The latter are those who catch freshwater fishes for commerce or selling in markets. Thus, commercially-caught freshwater fishes contribute to food security and the economy, and poverty alleviation.

Among the major freshwater fishes that are commercially-caught in inland waters are the tilapia (28.7%), mudfish (11.5%), Asiatic catfish (8.0%), gourami (6.2%), common carp (6.2%), bighead carp (2.6%) and milkfish (2.0%). The top-producing regions in the country for freshwater fishes commercially-caught are the BARMM with 33.5% of the total production, CALABARZON with 22.4% and Central Luzon with 16.2%.

Nile tilapia, the most commercially-caught freshwater fish in inland waters. (Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III)

In terms of species, the introduced Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is the predominant tilapia species caught in our inland waters throughout the country. The introduced mudfish or dalag (Channa striata) breeds naturally in the wild like the tilapias. The introduced Asiatic catfish (Clarias batrachus) which has dominated the native catfish or hito (Clarias macrocephalus), also breeds naturally in inland waters. The introduced gouramis (eg. Trichopodus pectoralis) and common carp or karpa (Cyprinus carpio) are also self-propagating. 

The introduced bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis) and the native milkfish or bangus (Chanos chanos) cannot breed naturally in our inland waters. They are caught in Laguna de Bay, the country’s largest freshwater lake, where they are cultured in fishpens from which they escape with destructive typhoons.

In an assessment of the inland fisheries production in the country from 2005 to 2018, the findings showed that there was an increase of 12% in the production. The regions with the highest increases were MIMAROPA, Northern Mindanao, Zamboanga Peninsula, Bicol and Davao while the regions with the lowest increases were Eastern Visayas, Ilocos and CALABARZON.

There was a relative average annual increase of 4.2% for the production of commercially-caught freshwater fishes from 2005 to 2017. The fishes with the highest increase in production were the tilapia (75.2%) and common carp (67.55%); the fish with a high decrease in production was the Asiatic catfish (-22.65%).

The major issues identified that threaten the sustainability of commercially-caught freshwater fishes were overfishing, water pollution, invasive fishes and environmental degradation.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III

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