Missed opportunities
By Manny Piñol

In the fish section of the Seafood City outlet in Irvine, California, one of the biggest chains of Filipino-owned stores in the US,, huge Tilapias are being sold for over $5 per kilo.

What I saw in that short visit to the store last month were Tilapias which came from Taiwan, not from the Philippines.
William Go, one of the brothers who owns Seafood City, told me that there is a great demand for Tilapia, including Bangus, from the Philippines but there is hardly enough supply sent to the US.

“Filipinos here prefer Tilapia and Bangus from the Philippines not only because they taste better but also because of the sense of pride and emotional attachment to anything that comes from the Motherland,” William told me during our meeting in Irvine.

Why can’t the Philippines then produce enough Tilapia and Bangus to satisfy the demand overseas?

To have an unbiased assessment of the state of the Tilapia, including Bangus, industry in the country, I asked one of America’s leading Tilapia growers, Fil-Am Rocky French, to come home and conduct an inspection.

French, grandson of an American soldier who fought in the American-Spanish war at the turn of the century, has a 40-acre Tilapia Farm in the middle of the desert in Coachella Valley in. Southern California.

In spite of the challenges in the desert where he has to pump out water from as deep as 1,000-feet and he has to contend with the cold winter and very hot summer, French has made his farm, AquaFarmingTech, one of the most successful and profitable fish farms in the US.

On July 7, I brought French, along with Undersecretary for Fisheries Eduardo Gongona to the Naujan Tilapia Hatchery and the Bangus Hatchery in Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro.

Last Saturday, July 9, in spite of the rains brought by Typhoon Butchoy, we motored to Muñoz, Nueva Ecija to check on the National Freshwater Fish Research Center of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

What he saw made French shake his head.

In the very vital facility for Bangus fry production in Bongabong, French saw the neglect by the BFAR.

The laboratory has no equipment and the breeders were fed with feeds containing less protein than that required for breeding.

In Naujan, he saw a facility capable of producing up to 150-million fry but which was only turning out 3.5-million fry every year.

In Muñoz, he discovered that the Center was still breeding Niloticas producing only 40% males.

“Freakin’ sh.t!” he exclaimed using his signature cuss phrase.

Worse than the neglect for the fish breeding stocks is the injustice on the highly-skilled and talented workers most of whom are fisheries graduates, many of them holding Masters degree.

They have been serving in the facilities as Job Orders receiving only P500 per day on a No Work- No Pay set-up.

French, the Filipino blood in him prevailing, has promised to share his knowledge and experience to rehabilitate the Philippine Tilapia Industry.

Starting October, BFAR workers will be sent to the AquaFarmingTech ( for a one-month exposure and training.

French has also promised to share with BFAR his Tilapia breeding materials which would produce 99% male.

(In Tilapia farming, males are preferred because they grow faster while the females are smaller because they spend their energy producing eggs.)

On my part, I have directed BFAR to provide funding for the improvement of the hatchery facilities and purchase modern laboratory equipment.

Also, I directed Usec Gongona to make sure that the qualified JOs be given regular positions while those who do not possess the eligibility should be assisted so they too would re eive the pay that they deserve.

Our time table for the turn-around of the Philippine Tilapia industry is one year.

By that time, we will start our effort to earn the status of being one of the world’s top Tilapia producers.

(Rocky French, in black shirt, shows the malnourished Tilapia breeders in Naujan. complsite photos show the team’s visit to Muñoz. Photos by John Pagaduan)