Some Insights OnTilapia Fishcage Culture In Taal Lake

Dead (chilled) tilapia sells at P100 per kilo at the Teresa (Rizal) market while the live ones sell for P130 a kilo.
Marketgoer taking a look at live tilapia in a glass container.

Last March 23, 2018 we attended a tilapia stakeholders consultative meeting in Talisay, Batangas convened by a major aquafeeds supplier and attended by more than a hundred fishcage operators, hatchery owners, traders and aquaculture experts.

Santeh Feeds which organized the consultative forum aimed to raise the awareness of the fish farmers on the importance of cage stocking schedules as a means of avoiding problems in marketing that often lead to volatility in prices.

When the fishcage operators stock their cages all at the same time, it could mean a glut in the market that can lead to low market price. It could also be the other way around. When there is a shortage in supply, the price could increase tremendously in which case only those who have the supply reap the benefits.

Danny Cabrera of Santeh Feeds addressing the Forum attendees.
Feeding tilapia in cages. One cage stocked with 200,000 fingerlings can consume P1,350,000 worth of feeds in one growing cycle of 3 to 4 months.
Merry Joy Enriquez  of Santeh Feeds posing withTateh Aquafeeds, the preferred brand of Taal Lake fishcage operators.

At the time of the consultative meeting, the price of tilapia was quite low, only about P74 per kilo ex-farm. The operators were not really losing but then it was a far cry from the high price of P94 per kilo that they got during most parts of 2017, according to Danny Cabrera, area sales marketing manager for Luzon of Santeh Feeds. Of course the tilapia farmers were not very happy.

CHANGE IN MARKETING PRACTICE – Cabrera also observes a very different marketing practice since the last three years. He explained that since three years ago, the traders have been insisting on buying live tilapia so much so that today about 90 percent of the fish is bought live. Before that it was the reverse. Some 10 years ago, 90 percent were chilled.

There is some problem here, especially on the part of the fishcage operators. Marketing live tilapia is not as simple as selling chilled tilapia. After harvesting the fish, putting them in plastic boxes and then applying ice, they are shipped to the major markets. Because the traders are demanding live tilapia, some of the farmers don’t have the capability in shipping big volumes of live fish.

A lot of grilled tilapia and other foods were prepared for the boodle fight that culminated the consultative meeting.
The attendees really enjoyed the boodle fight food.
This is all that remained after the eating.

Normally, Cabrera explained, the live tilapia was purchased at about P10 per kilo higher than the chilled fish. But then the cage operator could not sell the same volume if he were to sell live tilapia. In the Teresa (Rizal) market that we surveyed, the chilled tilapia that weighed three pieces to a kilo was selling for P100 a kilo while the live ones were priced at P130 per kilo.

NO BAGSAKAN IN TAAL LAKE – One problem, according to Cabrera, is that while there is a big production of tilapia and bangus in the lake, there is no “bagsakan” or trading post (consignacion) in the area where the operators can bring their harvests. That means, the traders can dictate the price they want to pay.

As per statistics from the Bureau of Statistics, 80,000 metric tons of tilapia and bangus are produced in Taal Lake each year and 70 percent of that is tilapia.

HIGH PRODUCTIVITY – So much tilapia can be produced in a very limited space. For instance, have you ever imagined that a cage that is 10 meters by 10 meters with a depth of 10 meters can yield as much as 30 tons of tilapia in three to four months?

This is how. A total of 200,000 fingerlings are stocked in one cage. These are harvested on a selective basis for several days, only harvesting the bigger ones that weigh say 250 to 300 grams each. Let’s say there is a survival rate of 60 percent which means 120,000 pieces. Multiply that by 250 grams each and you get 30 tons. If each fish weighs 300 grams, that would be 36 tons per cage.

Attendees from the town of Agoncillo.
Dennis Rito and Merry Joy Enriquez in taal Lake.

The biggest expense in tilapia production in cages is the feed. For one growing cycle of 200,000 fingerlings in a cage, total cost or feeds consumed is about P1,350,000. Other expenses are not that much.

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