|By Pinoy Farmer | March 7, 2008|
Your little hobby of collecting koi and goldfish may be your next best chance to triple your income or even higher. According to the latest records, ornamental fish breeding is fast becoming a multi-billion dollar industry.
The Bureau of Agricultural Research’s (BAR) National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP) recognized the potential of ornamental freshwater fish (OFF) breeding in the country as a viable industry. Its promotion was stirred when the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ (BFAR) scientist, Dr. Aida Palma presented this technology nd during the 2 Agriculture and Fisheries Technology Forum held at BAR in August last year.
BFAR jumpstarted the Ornamental Fish Development Program in September. The project aims to widen the market base for the export of our OFF. It is expected to kick off soon with the two largest freshwater lakes in Southern Tagalog, the Laguna and Taal lakes, as sources of ornamental fishes.
One of the experts in OFF breeding in Pila, Laguna is Dr. Lourdes V. Castillo. She is one of the chairpersons of the newly formed Ornamental Fish Industry Council (OFIC) and a member of the Laguna Breeders Ornamental Fish Association of Southern Tagalog
She has briefed numerous government offices and organizations on the prospects of ornamental fish breeding for livelihood and export. Aside from her Bachelor and Master’s Degree on Zoology, her experience includes working at BFAR’s Freshwater Fisheries Research Station and the Philippine Council for Marine and Aquaculture Resources Research and Development (PCMARRD) as zonal coordinator. She also served as station manager for five years at the Limnological Research Station at the University of the Philippines Los Baños in Laguna where she is currently a professor of Zoology.
The Lure of Ornamental Fish
The OFIC is a convergence of fisheries experts in the academe and government and private sectors. BioResearch, a private company, known to be the largest producer and distributor of ornamental fish in the country, is a member of this organization. Seeing that there is a big potential for the ornamental fish industry, the organization intends to explore the possibility of penetrating the world market for OFF. Apparently, the country is exporting ornamental marine fishes (OMF) but not freshwater fishes. We rank fifth among the top exporting countries of OMF, contributing 4 percent of the supply in the world market.
However, 90 percent of the ornamental fish traded is freshwater and only 10 percent is marine. Dr. Castillo states that this may be because there are many issues on environmental protection such as cyanide blasting (cyanide shortens the shelf life of fish) that confronts the catching of OMF from the wild. OFF are now preferred because they are grown in earthen ponds, thus they are less prone to diseases and their quality can be guaranteed by growers.
Dr. Castillo asserts that there is really a big potential for the export of OFF. She said that since we do not put prices on fishes by weight but by ton, this could mean bigger revenues for the country. The United States, Japan, and Europe are big markets for the export of OFF. The typical price per ton of ornamental fishes is $1.8 M compared to the average retail price per ton of food fishes, which is only $14,500-$16,500.
She cites Singapore, a small country, that is able to export high quality OFF that pass the standards of Europe. This is because they import OFF from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia which they, in turn, export to Europe. In fact, they are the top exporter of ornamental fishes, contributing 25 percent in the world trade. Moreover, in Thailand, OFF breeding is starting to be acknowledged as a big player in the Asian economy. Thailand’s total annual export value of ornamental fishes is $50 M.
Everybody’s Kind of Fish
“It’s not food for the table but when you can sell it you have money to buy food,” reasons out Dr. Castillo on why the OFF deserves a second look as a practical industry. According to her, compared to tilapia and bangus hatcheries wherein you need multiple hectares of ponds and a big capital, OFF breeding is low-risk and can be started with a low capital investment. It can also do a lot for the community as it will serve as a livelihood option for displaced fishermen and unemployed families.
Before, owning ornamental fishes as pets was seen a luxury. But now, even low income families can afford ornamental fish. “You see, there is a wide client base for this business. If your market is the upper middle class to high-end families, you can breed or grow arowanas and flowerhorn which can cost to as much as P100,000. If your market is the middle class, there are angelfish and goldfish that are worth a few hundred bucks. Even the lowest income earner can have ornamental fish as pet as there are guppies and fighting fish that cost from P5-25,” states Dr. Castillo.
According to her, there are three kinds of ornamental fish producers, namely: the fish farm operator, the backyard producer, and the hobbyist. Each has a different scale of operation. There are considerations in each scale such as the size and number of ponds, the number of breeders, and the available facilities. There should be enough space for the fry because when the fishes start to lay eggs, there should be enough space to grow them. Basically, three things should be considered: population size, manpower requirement, and other farm implements.
“These are the scales to work with. But I am pushing for a fish farm business because we have nursing and hatchery facilities. These are important since you have to separate the breeder from the grow-out or else they will not proliferate. You can opt for a backyard production but if you invest a small amount, you should not expect a big profit. The hobbyists contribute a considerable supply of OFF to pet shop owners but they mostly breed for self-satisfaction. If they are not able to breed, it’s okay with them. But in the case of fish farms like ours, we breed regularly for profit. This is really a business for us,” explains Dr. Castillo.
In a fish farm like the one owned by Dr. Castillo, there are earthen grow-out ponds since tanks do not sustain the growth of fishes. If you just grow angelfishes in tanks, it may reach up to six months before they fully grow. In earthen ponds, you can already sell the fish after 2 ½ months because they are able to grow fast in a big space. This is because there is natural food, depth of water, and supplemental feeding. The growth should be fast and regular or else the fish will not be marketable. You can grow up to 3,000 fry in an earthen pond. But of course, there should also be concrete tanks to hold the fishes when harvested. The fishes should be conditioned in concrete tanks for three days and to check if there are parasites or bacteria lurking on the fishes.
In a month, there are usually two major harvests of fishes from 2-3 ponds in Dr. Castillo’s fish farm. The fishes do not stay in the ponds longer than three months. But toward the end of the year, six months have already passed before their fishes are harvested. This is because the demand is very low. Based on the status report Dr. Castillo got from some pet shops, the months of March, September, and October are the peak months for OFF sales. From May to June and toward December, people do not buy OFF because they prioritize paying tuition fees and spending for the Christmas season.
But in the case of Dr. Castillo’s farm, since they regularly sell wholesale to fish distributors of pet shops, they don’t experience the highs and lows of demand. “Our harvest goes directly to Cartimar, the main hub for OFF in the country. They sell our produce to pet shops,” she says.
What the Fish Wants
For the proper maintenance and regular production of OFF, there should be a deep or shallow well and a pump to supply water to the ponds. An abundant water supply is crucial for the maintenance of the farm. Furthermore, an aerator, an apparatus that mixes water and air for a smooth flow, is also needed. There should also be a full-time staff who lives in the farm to attend to the cleaning of ponds and feeding of fishes, as well as to perform other errands in the farm.
A backyard type of fish ponds are usually found in residential premises with limited facilities. The capital investment is low and the labor is shared by the household. Dr. Castillo suggests that for the beginner who wants to try OFF breeding, the easiest to breed are the livebearers like guppies. They lay their eggs without any interventions.
The goldfish is tedious to breed but the number of eggs it produces is high. Rather than the easiest to breed, Dr. Castillo opts for the quantity of eggs a fish produces. The livebearers are bought at a very low price and yet they are very difficult to grow. Some of the fishes produced in Dr. Castillo’s farm are the silver, golden, and albino tin foil barb; albino rainbow shark; hammerhead; goldfish; shibumkin; and fighting fish.
Dr. Castillo states that there are no difficulties in following the OFF technology. But sometimes, the problem is related with the social attitude or work ethics of fish growers. Since OFF breeding is a tedious task, it requires a lot of time and focus. If one is serious in making OFF breeding a means of livelihood, she says that one must put his heart in the production and does his best to master the technology.
Given these information, what assurance can the industry have for it to thrive in the country as a sustainable livelihood?
In Thailand, Dr. Castillo says that the government gives its full support for the growth of the OFF industry. But in the Philippines, in most cases, one has to work on his own to promote an industry. “Our biggest challenge is poverty alleviation. The (OFF) industry is right in front of us. Why don’t we go into this? There are so many idle lands (in the Philippines),” she quips.
Being both in the academe and the private sector, Dr. Castillo uses her capability to speak and present her ideas and expertise in front of scientific community, private sector, policy Government support makers, and ordinary people. She said she is encouraging the people especially policy and decision makers to consider the OFF industry as potential catalyst in our economic growth. She believes that by making a lot of noise about the prospects of the industry, it can get the attention of the government and convince it to promote its expansion.
Moreover, we can be competitive because we are a tropical country; the land is available and we have an abundant water supply to maintain fish farms. Our government should support this venture especially if we want to enter the world market. Dr. Castillo emphasizes that an endorsement from the country is very important because it gives assurance to the quality of the product since it carries the name of the country.
She challenges the government further by saying, “Promotion is a costly investment but if the government is willing to do this, we, on our part as a private sector, will do our part to develop the industry. Those who cannot afford a capital to start their own business could be employees in the business. I think this is better than giving a kilo of rice and canned goods to poor families come holiday season. Why not give them the means to provide for their own families?”
source: Miko Jazmine J. Mojica of http://www.bar.gov.ph