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Pangasius: New Rave For Aquaculture Industry?

by the Fish Site Editor
23 December 2009, at 12:00am

PHILIPPINES - Pangasius (river catfish), relatively unknown compared to bangus and tilapia is becoming more and more popular in the industry.

This fleshy and fast-growing fish, said Dr Adelaida Palma, was introduced in the country by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-National Inland Fisheries Technology Centre (BFAR-NIFTC) as early as 1981. Ms Palma, chief of the Tanay, Rizal-based BFAR-NIFTC, said that breeding trials were started in 1985 and protocol for breeding and grow-out developed in succeeding years.

Apparently, the market was not ready at that time. Hence, pangasius fingerlings produced were passed on to the aquarium fish trade as “freshwater hammerhead shark.”

Pangasius gained wide acceptance as a food fish, researches said. The web site eurofish.dk lists pangasius production in Vietnam at 40,000 metric tons (MT) in 1997. Due to strong demand, production shot up dramatically and, at present, pangasius is considered as one of the top three cultured food fish in the world. Last year Vietnam, where 90 percent of pangasius farming was recorded, exported 640,800 tons of pangasius products worth $1.4 billion out of 1.2 million MT of total production.

Pangasius belongs to the family Silurida (Pangasiidae) and is indigenous to the Mekong River delta bordered by Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and China’s Yunan province.

Pangasius takes the name basa, tra or swai fish in the United States. In the country, processed pangasius is marketed as cream dory fish.

Currently, pangasius fingerlings are both imported and produced locally through big-time companies such as the Blue Bay hatchery and Vitarich Corp. There are also private and government hatcheries in some parts of Luzon and Mindanao.

Fishery officials say that the country currently imports 40 20-footer container vans of pangasius flesh monthly. This amounts to an outstanding 400 MT mainly for fast- food outlets and the fish-fillet market. The national fisheries center estimates current demand at 15,000 MT.

The BFAR-NIFTC, which is the central pangasius hatchery in the country, has formulated a road map outlining establishment of regional satellite hatcheries and demo sites, development of pangasius processing plant and promotion of value-added products, genetic improvement of pangasius and the conduct of training courses, to complement current interventions.

Vitarich Corporation is offering contract-growing schemes mainly in Bulacan and Pampanga to increase local production. Imee Chun, an official of the corporation, said that they plan to tap into the export market later on.

Pangasius is ideal for the fish-fillet business. The fish is used as a substitute for more expensive marine fishes in restaurants.

Aside from its fish-fillet business, Vitarich has come up with processed pangasius products like longganisa, Hungarian sausage, Shanghai lumpia, franks and nuggets. Mr Chun said that their company is also pushing for skin-on fillet, which is good for ihaw-ihaw and grilled, frozen gutted and steak cuts.

Palma said that pangasius fingerling production is through induced spawning as the fish cannot reproduce naturally under Philippine conditions. This reduces environmental risks if the fish is inadvertently released into open waters, Ms Palma said.

Pangasius is a tropical warm water catfish that grows to a maximum of 1.3 meters in length and 44 kilograms. It is an air-breathing fish (bimodal respiration), which enables it to tolerate low dissolved oxygen levels. Under semi-intensive fishpond culture, the fish can reach 1 kilo harvest weight from 20-gram fingerlings within six months culture period.

Fast growth and high survival rate offers opportunity for fish farmers to achieve far more production and income per unit area compared with traditional farmed fishes. However, it also has to consume more feeds, thus higher production expenses. Acceptable feed conversion ratio for the fish is 1.5. This means 1.5 kilograms of feeds is required to produce 1 kilo of fish.

the Fish Site Editor