LSO's partner in Philippines promote Pangasius The Lowly catfish goes high-end
By Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:06:00 02/17/2008


THE ONCE LOWLY CATFISH has finally found its rightful spot in Philippine aquaculture.

A freshwater specie, the Pangasius is now being eyed by both the Department of Agriculture and private sector as one of the fastest growing aquaculture subsectors given the increasing demand in prime markets, headed by Russia, Poland, Spain and the US.

In a recent presentation, Vitarich Corp. national marketing manager Jose de Leon Angeles said the Pangasius fillet commands high prices in prime markets and is popular in upscale restaurants and top hotels.

“Prices of catfish in the US market have gone up and a further increase is likely in the coming year. This is mainly due to lower domestic production and strong demand,” he explained.

From 1997 to 2006, annual commercial production of raw Pangasius had surged 36-fold to 825,000 MT from an initial 22,500 MT, while volume of exported Pangasius fillets jumped by more than 40 times to 286,000 MT from 7,000 MT.

Meanwhile, export revenues increased almost 37-fold to $737 million from an initial $19.7 million in 2006.

According to Angeles, Vietnam, which is the lead global supplier of Pangasius fillet, has been cashing on what it dubbed as the “princess of Vietnamese aquaculture,” as Pangasius fish harvests average close to 1 million metric tons annually, estimated to be worth $1 billion.

By 2010, Vietnam exports of Pangasius fillet are seen to go up to at least $2 billion.

In China, total catfish production last year exceeded 20,000 tons, while Thailand recently expanded its catfish exports to the United States.

The Philippines, however, imports as much as 14 to 20 containers monthly—with each container having some 12 MT of Pangasius fillet—due to the demand from hotels and restaurants.

Locally, Pangasius dishes are being served under exotic names such as Cobbler Fish, Cream Dory Fish, Basa Fish, among others.

Lowly fish

Twenty years ago, Pangasius was common fare for the poor people in the Mekong Delta, Angeles explained.

Pangasius is an omnivorous, air-breathing fish that adapts well to different feeds and can survive even in water with a low oxygen.

It is also called shark catfish, because of its sharp dorsal fins, silver striped catfish, Siamese shark, sutchi catfish or swai catfish, and is endemic on the Vietnam side of the Mekong River.

Known for its enormous size, the adult Pangasius can reach 130 centimeters or 4 feet in length and can weigh up to 44 kilos or 97 pounds.

BFAR introduced Pangasius to the Philippines as early as 1981. But due to poor market take-up at that time, BFAR said the fingerlings produced were sold in the ornamental or aquarium business as “hammerhead.”

But as the markets discovered its benefits, the Pangasius suddenly found its way to the tables of fine-dining establishments and five-star hotels and this revitalized the local aquaculture industry’s interest in farming the fish as a food commodity, BFAR said.

Export potential

Given the low supply and high demand for the Pangasius fillet, Angeles said the Philippines can get on the export bandwagon.

“The entry of the Pangasius to the country’s line of aqua products for export will strengthen our foothold in the global aquaculture market,” Vitarich chair Rogelio Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento noted that the culture of Pangasius is expected to open new business opportunities in both local and export markets, similar to that of the bangus and tilapia.

“If we start culturing Pangasius here, we do not have to rely on imports to meet local market demand. This can also greatly boost our export markets,” he added.

A BFAR study showed that growing 10,000 fingerlings at P2.50 each in a 2,000-square meter pond can cost P342,245.75, inclusive of feeds, lime, diesel, electricity and labor.

With a harvest of 8,000 kilos at a farm gate of P60 a kilo, the net income could reach P137,754.25 after gross sales of P480,000.

Vitarich is helping farmers cash in on the Pangasius trend by selling fingerlings, feeds as well as technical consultancy.

Sarmiento said that while the export potential is there, Vitarich would first focus on supplying the local market.

“If we are going to export, we should be able to supply at least 640,000 kilos of the Pangasius fish. It will take us approximately 18 months before we can start exporting,” he said.



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