By Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III
A popular dining place in Bacnotan, La Union is the Riverfarm Seafood Restaurant (RSR) which is just beside the MacArthur Highway (282 kilometers north of Manila) and the brackishwater Baroro River. Within the one-hectare Riverfarm, the RSR is unique for serving delectable dishes of the “golden tilapia.”
The “golden tilapia,” also known as the “red tilapia,” is a bright-colored and salt-tolerant hybrid of the dark-colored Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and other species. It was obtained by Cesar Ocampo, the owner of Riverfarm and the RSR, from a friend in Batangas in 2001. He put up the RSR in 2003.
In our recent visit, Ocampo showed us how the “golden tilapia” is bred and grown to a size for cooking in the RSR. The breeding is done in a freshwater pond (40 x 20 x 2 meters) stocked with breeders weighing 100-150 grams each at a sex ratio of three females to a male. After a month of breeding, the fry produced are collected and transferred to fine-mesh nursery net cages (8 x 4 x 2- 10 x 10 x2 meters) also in the same pond for rearing fingerlings and juveniles in 2-3 months with feeding of commercial feeds.
Cesar Ocampo with the author at the “golden tilapia” hatchery of Riverfarm.
The juveniles (25-50 grams each) are stocked in the grow-out cages measuring 8 x 8 x 2-20 x 10 x 2 meters at 8.5-12.5/m 3 installed along the bank of the Baroro River and cultured for 3-4 months with commercial feeds. The fish are harvested at an average weight of 200 grams each (5 fish to a kilo) and survival rate of 84%. Twenty bags of feed (25 kg/bag) are used for producing a thousand fish. The fish is grown in cages in the months of February to May. Cage culture in the river is avoided during the rainy months due to the strong river flow and possible flooding, according to Ocampo.
With flowing water in the river and tidal currents, the quality of the fish grown in the cages is much better with no muddy flavor compared to that of the fish cultured in stagnant ponds. When orders for the fish are made at the RSR, live fish are scooped out of a holding cage in the river and cooked within minutes in the kitchen for dishes such as sinigang, fried, grilled or steamed Chinese-style.
A dish of the “golden tilapia” cooked as steamed Chinese-style at the Riverfarm Seafood Restaurant.
A dish of sinigang costs PhP120 while that for the steamed fish is PhP250 a piece. Diners who wish to take out fresh “golden tilapia” for home-cooking can do so at a price of PhP200 per kilo. As many as 60 kilos per day are sold by the RSR on weekends and 10 kilos per day on ordinary days.
An added attraction of the RSR since 2014 is its mini-riverboat “cruise” on the Baroro River in the months of December to May with 20 trips per month. With a barge-like boat measuring 32 x 12 feet and powered by a 25-horsepower outboard motor, 25 passengers can be accommodated for the 1.5- hour “cruise” at a cost of PhP3,000/pax. Lunch can also be served on board. This tourist attraction has boosted the ecotourism thrust of the Provincial Government.