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Mariculture Is 'El Nino Proof'


PHILIPPINES - The Department of Agriculture (DA) is encouraging small fisherfolk to shift to mariculture or sea-cage farming, which is not only cheaper and more productive in the long run, but has also proven to be sustainable despite the latest El Nino attack.

In a report to Agriculture Secretary Bernie Fondevilla, Director Malcolm Sarmiento Jr. of the DA’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), said the agency has recently inked an agreement with the Land Bank of the Philippines formalizing their partnership in promoting mariculture livelihood ventures in the country’s 49 mariculture parks and providing small fisherfolk with credit to urge them to take part in the project.

“This project with Land Bank will help our small fisherfolk at this critical period when the El Nino dry spell has dried up not only farmlands but lakes and ponds as well and raised the salinity level in our fishing waters, which has affected fish growth and production,” Mr Sarmiento said in his report to Mr Fondevilla.

“Shifting from fishing to marine cage farming will help our fisherfolk tide over the El Nino dry spell, and at the same time, help lower their production costs,” he said.

"Over the past two years, the DA leadership has directed heads of its attached agencies and of its regional field units (RFUs) to retool their respective budgets and give priority to intervention programs that will best help farmers, fisherfolk and other agriculture and fisheries stakeholders cope with the twin challenges of climate change and increasing global free trade," Mr Fondevilla said.

He said the DA, for one, has crafted, and started carrying out, a mitigation programme meant to sustain farm growth and yields despite the latest El Nino attack and to provide immediate aid to farmers and fisherfolk reeling from the dry spell.

Mr Sarmiento explained that as freshwater fishponds dry up during El Nino, brackishwater fishponds, which are the backbone of Philippine aquaculture, are also affected because heat raises salinity levels, which affect the growth of fish.

The solution to these woes now plaguing the fisheries sector is mariculture, which allows fish grown in sea cages to live in fairly constant salinity and temperature levels throughout the year.

Floating sea cages, as opposed to land-based pond farms, which require more resources to maintain and develop, also have high water exchange levels that make water pumps and tanks unnecessary, Mr Sarmiento said.

“Thus, this means lower production costs even with fuel and electricity rates going up, which also translates into lower fish prices for consumers,” he pointed out.

Sea cages, Mr Sarmiento noted, are also flexible and environment-friendly, unlike land-based fish farms, because they can easily be moved to new areas in the sea to prevent the buildup of biological wastes.