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Investors Start Fishing for Aquaculture

PHILIPPINES - Consumer demand for fish is rising rapidly across China and other parts of Asia, but supply is struggling to keep apace. Now that stocks are in a dangerous state of decline investors are eyeing up the future of marine hatcheries.

According to the Inquirer, the imbalance between supply and demand has driven prices up -- high enough so that many sought-after species, such as tiger grouper, humpback grouper, and tropical abalone, can now be cultivated profitably and sustainably through commercial aquaculture operations. This will also allow natural stocks time to recover.

"Following the successful establishment of the first hatchery in Tawi-Tawi province for these and other high-value species, investors are interested in establishing similar hatcheries in Mindanao", said the Inquirer.

Establishing a fully equipped hatchery, capable of producing one million juvenile fish per year, requires an investment of approximately $500,000-$700,000 with annual operating costs of approximately $30,000-$50,000.

Combining hatchery operations with "grow-out" operations -- designed to all the juvenile fish to grow to maturity -- increases profit margins, Lauro Ilagan, senior aquaculture specialist of USAID's Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, told the Inquirer. This, she added, has assisted investors to locate appropriate sites in Mindanao for the establishment of commercial aquaculture ventures.

In 2007, the GEM Program helped to establish a P26-million grouper and abalone hatchery in Tawi-Tawi to provide juvenile fish to growers. The hatchery was established in partnership with the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the provincial government, and other partners.

The Tawi-Tawi hatchery, is the only facility of its kind in the Sulu archipelago, and is now being operated by the Zamboanga-based Mega Fishing Corporation, a deep-sea purse seine fishing company that ships its canned fish products to 22 countries.