THE City Agriculture Office (CAO) remains optimistic that Dagupan City will maintain its position as producer of world-class bangus (milkfish) amid threats of fishponds drying up due to the El Niño.

The drying up of fishponds in the city has not yet reached an alarming level, City Agriculturist Emma Molina said after receiving reports from fishpond caretakers.

“But the effects might be felt earlier or will change in the long run,” Molina said April 4.

Dagupan City has an estimated 910 hectares of fishponds, of which only 20 to 25 hectares are threatened by the dry spell.

“These threatened ponds are situated in areas with a bit higher elevation due to the city’s uneven terrain. This, in turn, makes it difficult for the tide waters to enter the ponds, and for fishpond caretakers to redirect water from rivers to their drying ponds,” she said.

Molina noted that among the closely monitored barangays are Mamalingling, Bonuan Boquig, parts of Lucao, Tapuac, Mangin, and Tebeng that usually have small fishponds.

“We are expecting April to be the worst month because this is our hottest month compared to other months of the summer season, which is why, we have been monitoring 24 hours a day for the needs and reports of our constituents,” she added.

The CAO has been relentless in disseminating assistance, and has advised fishpond caretakers to not overstock their ponds.

“We need to be proactive. Overstocking means more competition for oxygen and provides less space for fish to breathe and grow. Dissolved oxygen level is low during hot season and if you add more fish in the ponds, they will compete for the dissolved oxygen. In that case, the other fish will go underneath the surface of the water to have more oxygen. Whenever the water level reduces, the fishpond caretaker should lessen the stocks in the pond or put a net to ensure the fish will not go to the shallow part of the pond,” Molina said.

She added that bangus fingerlings are susceptible to thermal shock, which may result from sudden rain after a “very humid” day.

Nonetheless, Molina said no case of “gataw,” or fish going to the surface of the water for oxygen that may lead to fish kill, has so far been reported to her office, despite the sudden rain at night in the city.

“One to 10 fish dying in a pond is normal. It is still within the tolerable limit and it cannot be classified as gataw because fishpond caretakers usually put extra fish aside from the target number for harvest,” she said.

Meanwhile, the CAO has assured sufficient supply of bangus to be grilled for the Bangusan Street Party along De Venecia Road on April 30.

“If the City Tourism Office were able to sell 900 grills, much like last year, then we will be providing 68,000 pieces (amounting to 4,500 kilograms),” Molina said.

Supply of bangus for Holy Week is also sufficient amid the expected high consumer demand, she added.

Prices of bangus range from P120 to P145 per kilo depending on the variety. (PNA)