Media coverage of AQD impact


Research at SEAFDEC positively impacts on milkfish industry

See Manila Bulletin article
See IDRC article; Go to IDRC website

A milkfish seacage at the mariculture park in SEAFDEC’s Igang Marine Station in Guimaras

TIGBAUAN, ILOILO – Fueled by research, the milkfish industry has now shifted to a higher gear. Our national fish, ang isdang bangus para sa masa, is now a dollar earner for the country.

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), milkfish production in the country in 2007 totaled 350,000 metric tons, of which less than 1% was exported. The export was valued at 354 million pesos. Exported milkfish went to the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong.

The 2007 milkfish production in the country is more than double that of ten years ago as the industry has grown at 7% per year. This growth is attributed by industry watchers to several factors. First is a shift back to milkfish farming by tiger shrimp farmers; second, the adoption and proliferation of sea cages; and third, the development of new aquaculture technologies, in particular, the availability of hatchery-reared fry & the availability of formulated feeds.

In technology development, the Iloilo-based research center SEAFDEC or the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center pioneered the artificial propagation of milkfish as far back as 1976, and collaborated with BFAR in extending hatchery technology in the country. SEAFDEC has also studied the basic biology and physiology of milkfish. These studies have been the prelude to establishing nutrient or feed requirements, stocking densities in sea cages, maintaining fish health, even in engineering the design of milkfish egg collectors, among others.

SEAFDEC is a treaty organization that serves 11 member countries (ASEAN + Japan), and the Philippines, the host country of SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department (AQD), is usually the first testing ground of its technologies and the Filipinos are the first to benefit. Only three countries are farming milkfish – the Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia. However, Malaysia and Thailand are expressing their interest.


Feed types for various life stages of fish formulated and manufactured in SEAFDEC’s feed mill

Milkfish hatchery technology did not immediately take off, there were still a lot of fry caught in the wild in the ‘80s and the fishfarmers themselves were distrustful of hatchery-reared fry because of deformities, later “cured” by researchers by adding vitamin C to fish diet. Still, SEAFDEC, BFAR and other institutions like PCAMRD (the Philippine Council for Aquatic Marine Research & Development) and University of the Philippines Visayas persevered, knowing that wild catches of most commercially important fishes have been historically declining because of pollution and over-exploitation.

Aquaculture can bridge the demand-and-supply gap.

By 1984, AQD began conducting its annual training course in marine fish hatchery, and also initiated an adopt-a-milkfish-broodstock scheme for the private sector. It built an integrated fish broodstock and hatchery demonstration complex in 1998 in Tigbauan, Iloilo to give trainees hands-on experience and to disperse fry to the private sector. It was also able to formulate an effective diet for milkfish larvae by 1995, and for broodstock by 1997.

Feed types for various life stages of fish formulated and manufactured in SEAFDEC’s feed mill


A larval rearing tank at SEAFDEC’s main station in Tigbauan, Iloilo

“We are often asked what the impact of R&D is, especially research from SEAFDEC,” noted Dr. Joebert Toledo, Chief of SEAFDEC/AQD. “Without research, there would be no milkfish hatchery, no seedstock, no feeds, and no ways of controlling the spread of fish diseases, no aquaculture. The bottom line is to see the amount of milkfish that the country is producing. If this comes from aquaculture and not from municipal or commercial fisheries, then it comes mostly from research; and if it comes from research, then it comes mostly from SEAFDEC, too.”

According to FAO, 99.24% of the milkfish produced in the country in 2007 already comes from aquaculture. BFAR could not report milkfish catch from municipal or commercial fishing as this was negligible.

“If there are milkfish farms and milkfish hatcheries, there must be technical people manning these businesses. Technical training comes from research centers. I think SEAFDEC does it best because it developed the breeding and hatchery technology, and conducted the fish nutrient requirement & fish health studies,” Dr. Toledo said, noting that about 122 papers on milkfish were already published by SEAFDEC in peer-reviewed science journals, with the first paper appearing in 1976 and the latest in June 2010.

“The results described in these science papers are used in our training courses, in our farmer-friendly extension manuals, and in our demonstration & field verification projects,” he said. “This is why SEAFDEC can proudly say that its aquaculture technologies are science-based.”


Communities in Nueva Valencia are taught milkfish farming by SEAFDEC

Most recently, four barangays in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras that were affected by the 2006 oil spill took home their profits from a SEAFDEC-Petron/Citi Foundation project on milkfish sea cage culture project. Women in two barangays in Tigbauan, Iloilo were also trained on milkfish post-harvest and marketing, an activity that was part of a SEAFDEC collaborative project with North Carolina State University and funded by the AQUAFISH Collaborative Research Support Program.


Booklaunching at SEAFDEC in July 2010 to support its extension work for fishfarmers

SEAFDEC is offering 15 training courses this year on various aspects of aquaculture including milkfish. Each course is intended for 10-15 people only because the training is 80% practical sessions and a small-sized class ensures that learning is hands-on and thorough. For extension manuals, SEAFDEC launched in July 2010 another seven titles covering milkfish fingerling production, seabass grow-out culture in ponds, abalone grow-out, and sea cucumber seed production.

The current and future studies at SEAFDEC include biochemical markers for egg quality; indexes for growth in milkfish; fermentation in improving the nutritive value of locally available feed ingredients; and climate change adaptation. The overall aim is to sustain and continuously refine milkfish technologies in view of rapidly changing environmental conditions.

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Filipinos have a stake in aquaculture at SEAFDEC

See Panay News article

Award-winning scientist Dr. Ma. Junemie Hazel Lebata-Ramos, who hails from Lambunao, Iloilo, is flanked by SEAFDEC Deputy Chief Dr. Teruo Azuma and SEAFDEC Chief Dr. Joebert Toledo

TIGBAUAN, ILOILO — The right to the science-based technologies in raising fish developed by the research center the government supports. The right to demand technical assistance in aquaculture. The right to be trained by world-class experts in fish culture. The right to be informed.

These are basically what Filipinos get for their stake in the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), a regional treaty organization whose Aquaculture Department (AQD) is based in the coastal town of Tigbauan, Iloilo. SEAFDEC/AQD is mandated to conduct aquaculture research-and-development, and has been in existence since 1973.

AQD recently celebrated its 37th foundation day which was graced by the National Director of the DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Atty. Malcolm Sarmiento.

Aquaculture is vital to the country’s food security program
Atty. Sarmiento also indicated that the new Department of Agriculture Secretary, Hon. Proceso Alcala, has a strong preference for the intensification and enhancement of aquaculture projects all over the country. Aquaculture is still considered the main driver of the country’s fish production endeavor, and is vital to the country’s food security program.

In 2007 according to BFAR, aquaculture comprised 47% of the country’s total fish production of 4.7 million metric tons valued at 180 billion pesos. From this production, the country’s overall fish export is worth 26 billion pesos. SEAFDEC’s budget for R&D from the national government is less than 1% of total export.

“Given our limited capacity to undertake in-house, self-funded R&D activities, we (at BFAR) consider ourselves truly blessed for the privilege of being right where AQD is trailblazing (innovations)  that include abalone breeding and culture; fish health management; aquaculture biotechnology; and, domestication of mudcrab in captivity,” the BFAR National Director continued.

“The good news is that by resolving to work together, BFAR and AQD have managed to share talents and resources and prevented unnecessary duplication of efforts.”

DA-BFAR, Sarmiento said, would be pursuing a nationwide program for breeding and hatchery of economically-important fishes to bolster the country’s capacity to produce and supply fish fingerlings to meet the requirements of growers and to seed the government’s fingerling dispersal program for the benefit of small fishers. In addition, the ongoing mariculture program — where fish farmers can cheaply rent cages and culture facilities without expensive capital outlay — also needs seedstock and feeds.

“SEAFDEC is quite strong in these two areas — seed production and feeding management,” said Dr. Joebert Toledo, the Chief of SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department.

“In its 37 years, AQD has first developed, then demonstrated to entrepreneurs, and then continuously refined the hatchery technologies for milkfish, tiger shrimp, grouper, abalone, mudcrab, freshwater prawn to name a few. Most recently, we have developed a working technology for the hatchery and cage culture of sea cucumber. We have trained mostly Filipinos in these mature technologies and they have become the workhorses of private industry and BFAR itself, with quite a number becoming OFWs and international consultants.”

“It can never be said that our OFWs are only domestics and caregivers. We have high-level aquaculturists, too, in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Brunei, among other countries.”

“SEAFDEC has also made its research information openly available to all,” Dr. Toledo added. “In feed formulation for instance, most of the formulations made by feed companies are based on the basic requirements of fish for nutrients like protein, essential amino acids, vitamins, among others. These are part of SEAFDEC’s early results that have been widely disseminated.”

When basic, science-based information is used in feed formulation, the fish farmer is assured that the feeds he is using is tailor-made to the species under culture, and he can make his choice from cheap, locally-available feed ingredients. With the right training, also offered by SEAFDEC, he can also manufacture his own feeds in the fish farm.

The right feeding management will lead to greater efficiency in aquaculture enterprises, resulting in lower cost of production. As both Atty. Sarmiento and Dr. Toledo noted, feed cost remains the single most expensive item in aquaculture.

Tears, sweat and blood


SEAFDEC employees donate blood

Collectively and individually, SEAFDEC employees have always been concerned about the quality and impact of their work on people and the environment.  “SEAFDEC generates knowledge, not profits,” said Dr. Toledo, “and we realize that research quality is our first hurdle. I am proud to say that SEAFDEC researchers have been recognized for quality R&D.”

Just recently, SEAFDEC cried tears of joy when its scientists won twice in a row DOST’s prestigious Dr. Elvira Tan Memorial Award for Fisheries. These were Dr. Ma. Rowena Eguia for 2010 and Dr. Ma. Junemie Hazel Ramos for 2009, the latter also winning Japan’s International Award for Young Researchers in 2009. Two more were recognized by DA-BAR for best basic research (Ms. Ma. Rovilla Luhan in 2009) and by the Professional Regulatory Commission as outstanding fisheries professional (Dr. Joebert Toledo in 2009).

“Because of our high-impact research, SEAFDEC was able to get more collaborators, more qualified researchers to join us, and even successfully lobby for an increase in Philippine government funding,” Dr. Toledo clarified. “We have also increased by 10-12% our externally and internally generated fund sources. We do not waste R&D funds, everything is accounted for.”

Well-aware that aquaculture is part of a bigger ecosystem, SEAFDEC employees sought to safeguard the watershed that supports its stations and nearby communities. In July 2010, on the occasion of AQD’s 37th founding anniversary, employees sweated it out and planted around 150 trees including hardwoods and 225 bakhaw (or the mangrove Rhizophora) in Tigbauan and Dumangas, Iloilo. The mangrove planting was a joint effort with the Zoological Society of London.

Also during the 37th anniversary celebration, and under the auspices of the Philippine National Red Cross, SEAFDEC employees  donated 30 bags of blood, or around 13,500 cc, and organized a medical mission that served more than a hundred children and adults in its neighbor communities.

Climate change and the future


SEAFDEC employees plant mangroves

“Our collective need for collaboration cannot be over-emphasized,” Director Sarmiento said. “Scientists have been one in saying that fisheries is among the sectors that are most vulnerable to climate change. Any change in ocean temperature and even gradual rise in sea water level will inevitably result in the collapse of the country’s fish factory as planktons will disappear, dissolved oxygen will become scarce, and acidity level will become toxic to plant and animal life.”

“Needless to say, climate change adaptation and mitigation measures hold the key to the survival of the aquatic food web. There is no time to waste and inaction is not an option since our ability to meet our food security objectives is intimately linked with our ability to restore threatened underwater plant and animal species and the ecosystems that nurture and nourish them.”

Dr. Sarmiento is also pleased to note that SEAFDEC has already geared itself towards crafting appropriate adaptation and mitigation schemes.

SEAFDEC’s new R&D direction as regards protecting the environment and climate change include a focused campaign on good aquaculture practices, new research on integrated and multi-trophic aquaculture, and measures that will help the industry deal with the ill effects of climate change.

The latter would cover modified culture practices, new and improved farming systems, and the development of new strains that can survive in higher temperature, thrive in acidified environment, adapt to higher water levels, and resist new diseases. SEAFDEC will also help the government draw new maps of sites that would no longer be suitable for aquaculture, or that would be highly vulnerable to climate change so communities and fish farms can be assisted.

“(Our) grand expectation (of SEAFDEC) comes from knowing that in its first 37 years of meaningful service to the (fisheries) industry in Southeast Asia, SEAFDEC has earned the trust and admiration of its collaborative and funding partners, making all willing and disposed to continue supporting the institution’s millennium goals,” Atty. Sarmiento concluded.