Catfish

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Thursday, August 21, 2014


ONE of the shows I watch on National Geographic cable channel is a contest to get the biggest catfish (local name is hito). The sport, held in Oklahoma in the United States, is a 24-hour race to bring in the biggest catch. But there’s a twist - no fishing gears are allowed. Unlike traditional fishing, contestants catch the massive catfish with their hands, pulling them from holes in the water by their mouths.

It’s amazing to see giant catfish growing in that part of the world. I have never seen or heard about a hito of similar size here in the Philippines. I don’t think it’s because of our climate. There’s a giant catfish called the Mekong Catfish in Vietnam and nearby countries like Cambodia and China.

By the way, catfishes, according to Wikipedia, are a diverse group of ray-finned fish named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat's whiskers. Catfish have inhabited all continents at one time or another. Catfish are most diverse in tropical South America, Asia and Africa with one family native to North America and one family in Europe. More than half of all catfish species live in the Americas.

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Catfish are found in freshwater environments, though most inhabit shallow, running water. Catfish have no scales; their bodies are often naked. In some species, the mucus-covered skin is used in cutaneous respiration, where the fish breathes through its skin rather than gills or lungs.

The ability to breathe through their skin is the reason why catfishes can live out of water for quite some time and move short distances over land. They can walk and leave the water to migrate to other water bodies using its auxiliary breathing organs. No wonder catfish are found everywhere.

Because catfish don’t have scales, the Jews and some religions do not eat them. Their basis is Leviticus chapter 11 verses 9 and 10 of the Holy Bible which says: “Among all [creatures] that are in the water, you may eat these: Any [of the creatures] in the water that has fins and scales, those you may eat, whether [it lives] in the waters, in the seas or in the rivers. But any [creatures]that do not have fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, among all the creeping creatures in the water and among all living creatures that [live] in the water, are an abomination for you.”
In the Philippines, there are three species of Catfish. We have the native hito (Clarias macrocephalus, the Thai catfish (Clarias batrachus) and the African hito, (Clarias gariepinus). Among the three species, only C. macrocephalus is indigenous in the Philippines while the other two are introduced species. C. gariepinus originated from Africa while C. batrachus came from Thailand.

The introduction of these species into the country was believed to have contributed to the diminishing population of the native catfish. In Pampanga there are still native hito, but time will come when they will be wiped out by their foreign counterparts. This is the sad consequence of bringing in invasive and foreign species in the country.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 22, 2014.

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