The improvements came thanks to pioneering research by a multinational team of scientists at the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC). During the 1970s and 1980s, IDRC provided significant funding and technical support for this work. Fish farmers in the Philippines today have a larger, more reliable supply of milkfish seed stock, or fry, to raise in their ponds and marine pens than they did 30 years ago. They also have better feeding and rearing methods for this very popular, nutritious, and affordable fish.
“The research contributed immensely to the increased production of milkfish by fish farmers in the Philippines, which spilled over to countries like Indonesia,” says Reyes.
In 1978, SEAFDEC first spawned milkfish, or bangus as it is called in the Philippines, in captivity. The technological breakthrough made the industry’s growth possible in Southeast Asia. At the time, the Philippines produced about 200,000 tonnes of milkfish. Aquaculturists stocked their ponds exclusively with wild fry netted in shallow coastal waters during the April to October spawning season. Artisanal collection provided income for many coastal fishers, but it could not supply fry year-round.
In 2009, the Philippines produced 350,000 tonnes of milkfish. Fish farmers buy fry from four Filipino hatcheries, Indonesian and Taiwanese hatcheries, and wild fry gatherers, says the Philippine Bangus Hatcheries Association.
SEAFDEC has provided hatcheries and milkfish farmers in the Philippines and neighbouring countries with a wealth of practical knowledge and tools for sustainable production. It also trained artisanal gatherers to better handle and transport the 1.5 cm long wild fry, increasing their survival rate.
Milkfish accounts for about half of the farmed fish production in the Philippines. An important source of animal protein, it is vital to the country’s food security.