ONE fish that is gaining popularity among Filipino consumers these days is pompano. You can buy it live, chilled, or frozen.
Like the very popular bangus, pompano can be cultured in marine cages.
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Although it is less expensive to raise bangus, there is less competition in pompano as only fish growers raise them. In addition, the price of pompano is usually more than double than that of the bangus.
However, pompano growers are facing one problem: fingerlings are not readily available at all times. Partly, that dilemma is now solved with the establishment of Finfish Hatcheries Inc. (FHI), touted to be the "technical experts in aquaculture."
Based in Sarangani province in Southern Mindanao, FHI does not only supply more than 50 percent of the country's national requirement of bangus fry but also pompano, lapu-lapu, seabass, and mangrove snapper. The first and largest commercial fry hatchery in the Philippines, it partners with the Bureau of Fishery and Aquatic Resources (Bfar) and Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (Seafdec) in developing the country's aquaculture industry.
"We hatched and nurtured pompano fingerlings using the most advanced hatchery technology," said Rene B. Bocaya, FHI's national marketing manager. "As such, we can assure our customers that 80 percent of what we deliver can survive in a well-prepared nursery pond."
FHI is the only hatchery in the country that segregates each fingerling harvest into different sizes to give buyers a choice of harvest lead times.
"Seeding the same size of fingerlings simplifies the growers' efforts in monitoring growth and ensuring more evenly sized harvests," Bocaya said.
Pompanos are marine fishes in the Trachinotus genus of the Carangidae family (better known as "jacks"). Their appearance is deep bodied and mackerel like, typically silver colored and toothless with a forked tail and narrow base. So far, twenty described species have been identified and most are valued as seafood. Some species are considered prize delicacies and game fish.
In the Philippines, the pompano species raised is Trachinotus blochii (locally called pompano). It eats small fish, schools, and moves a lot.
When raised in marine cages, they can be given formulated feeds or chopped bite-size trash fish.
The marketable size of pompano is between 400 grams to 800 grams. To attain such size, they must be managed in each growth stage: nursery, transition, and grow-out.
In nursery, they grow from one inch to three-inch fingerlings in 30-45 days, subsisting only on fry mash in sea water ponds or in marine cages.
In transition pond, pompano fish grow from three-inch fingerlings to 80-gram juveniles in brackish water ponds or in marine cages. This takes about two to three months and being fed with appropriate commercial feeds.
FHI does not recommend raising pompano in ponds. "We advise fish growers not to culture pompano in ponds due to the high possibility of algal blooms that could clog gills," Bocaya said.
Pompano must be raised in marine cages and marine pens. In such environment, pompano grows from 80-gram juveniles to marketable sizes (400 to 800 grams), feeding on commercial feeds or trash fish (if cheap). Growth up to 300 grams in cages takes about three months while growth up to 600 grams takes six to seven months.
According to FHI, stocking density depends on water quality, parasite load and frequency of changing the nets. Carrying capacity can be 20 to 40 kilograms per cubic meter, depending on site and intensity of culture.
FHI experts admit that a good pond water environment and the right feeds hasten growth. The best sign of good water quality is the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water. Keeping DO above 4.0 parts per million (ppm) early in the morning is most critical to encouraging immediate feeding hence faster growth.
If DO falls below 2.0 ppm, fish gasp for air and wait for DO to rise before eating.
A good marine cage water environment also speeds up growth when fish are given good feeds. DO in marine cages are normally stable at 5.5 to 8.0 ppm and drops right after feeding, when fish metabolize feeds. At this point, nets must be kept free of any algae, debris or barnacles that can clogs its holes, so clean water can flow through freely. This carries the fresh oxygen fish need to breathe normally, convert feeds efficiently and stay healthy.
Nets may be changed every two weeks for washing, drying and removal of barnacles. Polyculture with algae-eating species also helps keep nets clean.
Pompano must also be protected from pests and diseases. "Fish catch diseases when they are continuously stressed by natural and man-made causes," FHI claimed. "Once their immune systems weaken, bacteria, viruses and fungi can take over their body and cause death."
As such, FHI urges fish growers to know the normal appearance, and feeding and swimming behaviors of pompano. They must also know if their fish are undergoing stress. Among the first signs of stress or discomfort are abnormal swimming patterns and loss of appetite. In some instances, there are different streaks in the body of pompano.
At first sign of any abnormality, FHI recommends to contact fishery experts right away. Those who buy pompano fingerlings from them can contact their office "for immediate assistance."
There are several reasons why the fish are under stress. These may be due bad water quality (particularly low DO), poor quality feeds, and high levels of pathogens in surroundings. Corrective measures include proper aeration, managing algae growth in ponds, changing and cleaning of nets in cages, ensuring high quality of feeds, and vigilant monitoring of pathogen populations.
FHI does not recommend antibiotics or medications to correct the problem. If disease levels continue to be high even after aeration and feeds have been corrected, FHI advises growers to move their ponds to a better location.
Pompano has also potentials for market abroad. There was a news report that Fisherfarms exports most of its fresh chilled whole pompano to the United States and Canada. The fish are very acceptable to the foreign buyers because the feeds given to them don't contain any antibiotics.