The nile tilapia, introduced in the country because of its adaptability and ability to grow fast, promotes food security amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Tilapia is a hardy fish, a fast grower, and is preferred by Filipinos,” said Eduardo V. Manalili, director of the Inland Aquatic Resources Research Division of the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DoST-PCAARRD), in a recent presentation on commercially caught fishes. “What we need now, especially this pandemic, is food for poor households. Tilapia is a great commodity to our culture.”
“We introduced tilapia because it’s easy to breed and easy to grow and now it’s the second most important fish next to milkfish,” said academician Rafael D. Guerrero III, a member of the Agricultural Sciences Division of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Philippines. Native fishes like hito on the other hand, are carnivorous. “They feed on other fishes. It takes about seven kilos of other fish to produce one kilo of them.”
The tilapia industry provides valuable income and an affordable source of animal protein for the growing population, particularly those that depend on agriculture and fishing for livelihood. A June 2020 World Bank report states that, although poverty among farmers and fisherfolk has fallen over time, it remains far higher than the national average, and nearly three times greater than poverty among urban households.
Apart from the nile tilapia, common carp and mudfish round out the top three most important commercially caught freshwater fishes in 2017 with a value of over P3 billion pesos, according to 2018 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). All three species are introduced (or evolved in one environment and then introduced by humans into another), with the nile tilapia accounting for half of the total value.
Market study statistics from the same government body show that there was a 75.2% increase in tilapia fish catch between 2005 and 2017.
Freshwater fishes are more vulnerable to extinction than marine fishes, said Mr. Guerrero, because they’re closer to man. Among the freshwater fishes caught in the country, silver perch has the highest depletion rate, whereas tawilis—a freshwater sardine found only in Lake Taal, Batangas—is the most critically endangered endemic species.
Pollution, drainage of wetlands, channeling of rivers, forest deforestation, sedimentation, invasive species, and overharvesting are the major threats to freshwater fishes.
Government initiatives, such as BASIL, or the Balik Sigla sa Ilog at Lawa, have been put in place to address these issues. Provided with a budget of P209.28 million for five years (from 2018 to 2022), BASIL aims to revive the fisheries of lakes, rivers, and reservoirs located in upland and land-locked areas where there is a deficiency of fish. — Patricia B. Mirasol