I WAS surprised when I was told that the Dojo Loach is worth P1,500 to P2,500 per kilo nowadays.
I kept my cool, not betraying any reaction to the news, seeing myself instead as a boy hunting Dojo Loach in the rice fields of Suyoc, Mankayan, Benguet.
In those days, we use a handwoven trap made from splintered bamboo or use our bare hands to catch the mudfish.
In a day, I would collect enough of the Dojo fish to fill three round post bottles, about 500 ML to sell to our neighbors at 30 cents each.
From my earnings, I usually reserve 25 cents to buy myself a ticket for the movie during Saturdays, and the rest I gave to my mom.
The Dojo Loach is also known as the Weather Loach, Oriental weatherfish, Chinese Weatherfish or simply Pond Loach. It has come a long way in the Cordillera highlands since their introduction into the area by the Japanese during the Second World War.
These remarkable fish are called Weather Loaches or Weatherfish because of their habit of becoming extremely active when there is a change in the weather, possibly due to barometric pressure changes.
Dojo Loaches are bottom-dwelling scavengers that are found in the lakes, rivers, ponds and rice paddies of China, Korea, and Japan. Today, they are pond raised for the aquarium trade.
Right after the Second World War, the Dojo Loach were abundantly found in the rivers, lakes, creeks, and the rice terraces when the waters, soils, and environment of the region were not polluted by industrial chemicals and wastes, until the early 1990s.
I understand the Dojo Loach has different colors in different countries in Asia. Our Dojo Loach has dark greenish gray to dark brown spots over a yellowish brown, often mottled body and a noticeably paler belly.
The exotic fish has been growing in the rice terraces of the Cordillera “but golden snail infestation, the application of inorganic fertilizers, and changing farming practices contributed to their decline and eventual disappearance in their usual habitat,” according to a Project document that seeks to re-integrate Dojo Loach back into the rice fields in Mountain Province.
The Project is actually part of a bigger Project entitled, Conserving and Increasing the Value of Heirloom Rice in the Cordillera. Implementers of the Project are eyeing the return of the Dojo Loach “would add to household food security and additional income from the rice terraces.
The Project is jointly implemented by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR-CAR).
Ms. Lois Fermin, (OIC) Assistant Regional Director, of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR-CAR), agrees with the need to increase the value of heirloom rice terraces farming by growing Dojo Loach.
“At present, heirloom rice takes 6-7 months to grow with low production. In a year, growing heirloom rice-Dojo Loach can provide farmers good income,” she says.
Ms. Fermin said that for six months in the past, she has been supplying a Chinese buyer in Metro Manila with 10 kilos of Dojo Loach every week.
The Dojo fishes were sourced from farmers from all over the region and shipped live in milk tin cans to their buyer at PHP 1,500.00 per kilo.
The business stopped because the farmers could not sustain the needed weekly requirements of the market.
Today, Korean, Japanese and Chinese have indicated their willingness to buy Dojo Loach at P1,500-2,500/kilo. The problem is where to get the supply that responds to the demand.
According to Ms. Fermin, the first step in bringing back the Dojo Loach is to return to organic heirloom rice farming in the rice terraces. As much as possible, no nitrite and very low nitrate in water should flow into rice fields with Dojo Loach growing in them. Dojo Loach would readily get away from areas fertilized with ammonia and/or applied with chemical inputs, she explained.
The Dojo Loach is a barometer of clean water. As in the past, the irrigation in paddies where they are grown should be fresh and clean, safe from industrial and municipal wastes, Ms. Fermin added.
Keep your water quality up, which means no ammonia, no nitrites and very low nitrate readings with your aquarium test kit. Many are scavengers and will do well on a varied diet. The Clown Loach is very good at snail control, quickly ridding the tank of any unwanted snails.
Meanwhile, BFAR has yet to investigate the claim by farmers that “golden apple snail” or “kuhol” releases substances that poisons Dojo Loach.
Aside from hatchery production of Dojo Loach, BFAR-CAR also has yet to come out with a Dojo Loach Production Technology for the highlands.
As of now, the agency is focused on national priorities like the production of tilapia.
Meanwhile, the research project, “Integration of Loach “Dojo” in the Heirloom Rice Terraces in Mountain Province,” shall be implemented in two-year time duration (March 2019–March 2021), in five sites in four municipalities of Mountain Province.
Funded by the Department of Agriculture Heirloom Rice Project, it has a total number of 60 farmer beneficiaries. They are located in Pide, Sagada; Tanulong, Sagada; Sacasacan, Sadanga; Gawana, Barlig; and Samoki, Bontoc.
The successful conduct and results of this Project will go a long way in this important quest to bring back a very important protein source for highland folks throughout the centuries.
Compared with the protein content of Tilapia which is 20 percent, Dojo Loach is 70 percent, according to Ms. Fermin.