GIVE man a fish, so goes a Chinese saying, and he will eat fish for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will fish for his lifetime.
"If we don't watch out, this adage may soon become obsolete," deplored Roy C. Alimoane, the director of the Davao-based Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc.ÿ"We are fishing our waters to the limit."
In the period between 1998 and 2001, 30 percent more fish were harvested than could be replenished through the sea's natural productivity, according to a World Bank report.
"If the declining trend in fish production continues, by 2010 only around 10 kilograms of fish per year will be available for each Filipino," it said.
Fish provides more than half of the protein requirement of almost all Filipinos. At this rate, this makes the Filipinos one of the world's biggest fish consumers. This must be the reason why the current dwindling fish catch alarms experts.
"Unless we look for other sources of protein, the food intake of Filipinos will be greatly affected," a government official said.
To solve the problem, some fishery experts are batting for aquaculture. It is the raising of fish and other aquatic life in protected enclosure or in controlled, natural environments. One of its key benefits is its potential for reducing pressure on marine fisheries.
The aquaculture species currently produced in the country are bangus (milkfish), tilapia, seaweed, brackishwater shrimp, oyster, and mussel. Among them, tilapia has been touted as the answer to the problem of fish requirements of Filipinos.
After carps and salmonids, tilapia is the third most important fish around the world and is considered the single most important aquaculture product. World Aquaculture Society's Dr. Kevin Fitzsimmons branded tilapia as the "foodfish of the 21st century."
In the Philippines, tilapia is now the second most important fish, after bangus. Tilapia fish pens are a common sight in almost all the major rivers and lakes in the country, including Laguna de Bay, Taal Lake, and Lake Sebu.
It is very popular among Filipinos who cooked the fish in different ways, including fried, grilled, sinigang (a sour soup using tamarind, santol, guava or calamansi as a base) and paksiw (similar to sinigang only it uses vinegar).
If you happen to stay at Punta Isla Lake Resort in Lake Sebu, you can have fine dining at its floating restaurant.
Here, tilapia is prepared in various ways. The most popular of course is the chicharon tilapia. Other tilapia delicacies it serves include tilapia foyong, tilapia rebusado, tilapora, kinilaw na tilapia, nilasing na tilapia, pinaputok na tilapia, and daing na tilapia.
Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, the man who popularized tilapia in the Philippines, touted tilapia as the "country's wave of the future." As he puts it, "We are now one of the world's leading producers of tilapia. (Also in the list of top producers are China, Egypt, Thailand, Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico, Tanzania, Kenya, and Sri Lanka.)
To think of, tilapia was considered a nuisance fish when it was first introduced."
Historically, the introduction of the first tilapia species, the Mozambique tilapia, in the Philippines in 1950 was initially not well-accepted by the industry because of the lack of appropriate culture techniques," Dr. Guerrero said.
"Growth of the fish in ponds was stunted with too much breeding and overpopulation," added the former executive director of the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Aquaculture and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD).
"The small size and dark color of the fish did not also appeal to local consumers."
The introduction of the Nile tilapia in the 1970s improved the acceptance of tilapia in the Philippines because of its lighter color and faster growth compared to the earlier-introduced tilapia.
"The development of technologies for the improved breeding and culture of the fish and its affordable price are the main reasons why the tilapia is now the fish of the masses," Guerrero pointed out.
The fishery expert found out that tilapias are among the easiest and most profitable fish to farm. "The tilapia has good attributes that make it suitable for aquaculture," he said. "It matures early, breeds readily and is a hardy fish."
Most of the tilapia raised in the Philippines are consumed locally. However, there is a growing international market demand for tilapia as a foodfish. In the United States and Europe, tilapia is getting a lot of attention.
"In the United States, tilapia has shown the biggest gains in popularity among seafood, and this trend is expected to continue as consumption is projected to increase from 1.5 million tons in 2003 to 2.5 million tons by 2010," the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported.
Like Americans, Europeans are also fond of tilapia since they consider it as “white meat,” a health food low in cholesterol and fat. Also, European chefs have a preference for tilapia's firm meat.
Aside from its large demand in the world market, tilapia also commands a high price. In the United States, for instance, the typical retail price for whole live tilapia is from US$4-10 per kilo, while fresh tilapia fillet is being sold at US$8-10 per kilo.
No wonder, why more Filipinos are now raising tilapia. The fish can be raised in cages, tanks or in ponds in monoculture or in polyculture with other fishes.
Integrated farming with other agriculture crops has also been done. Culture technique may be extensive, semi-intensive, or intensive.
"Tilapia is here to stay in the country," Guerrero said."Its farming should be further promoted in upland and coastal areas of the country where fisheries production will be adversely affected by climate change."