Fishy ideas: three aquaculture systems to help develop the Philippine aquaculture industry

The Israel Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. (ICCP) recently held a webinar entitled ‘Aquaculture Innovation: Spotlight on Israeli Tech to Meet the Rising Food Demand.’ The event was held to exchange ideas on the aquaculture systems used and developed by Israeli fisheries and to hopefully introduce it to the Philippines and enhance yields.

Milkfish, or bangus, is the country’s national fish and one of its top fish produce. (Aybanreyes / Pixabay)

The speakers were Miguel Rene Dominguez, Vice President (VP) for Operations and Managing Director of the Alsons Aquaculture Corporation; Gur Ben Uri, VP for Operations of Dagan Agricultural Automation; and Cobi Levanon, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Biofishency Ltd.

Trends in Philippine aquaculture

As the only speaker from a Philippine aquaculture company, Dominguez discussed recent trends of the aquaculture industry in the Philippines. Dominguez took data from the Philippine Statistics Authority and noted that wild fish catch and aquaculture production has steadily declined from 2010-2020. Factors in the continuous decline may involve climate change, rise in the cost of feeds, and financial difficulties.

The country’s catch of tilapia and other aquaculture products has seen a steady decline since 2010. (Kengkreingkray / Pixabay)

The supply of milkfish (bangus) and tilapia, in particular, does not meet the demand of the country, which is why Dominguez is in agreement that learning from others may help address that gap.

“As a farmer we always tell people that you learn more by visiting other people’s farms, maybe in this case, visiting other countries to learn more about aquaculture and agriculture as a whole,” he said.

Out with traditional and in with intensive

Dominguez believes that the country should invest more in intensive aquaculture systems rather than stick to its traditional ways in producing milkfish and tilapia. 

He said that traditional ponds are underproductive, extensive and low-yielding. On the other hand intensive ponds can greatly increase yield. Particularly for milkfish, according to Dominguez, traditional marine cages can only produce three tons of milkfish per hectare per year, but intensive ponds, such as the ones they use in Sarangani, can produce up to 12 tons per hectare per year.

On tilapia, Dominguez said that 90% of the country’s tilapia is still grown in traditional ponds that are extensive and low-yielding.

Dominguez then introduced a system called the in pond race way system. It’s a system they use in Sarangani where they simulate a river in their ponds. With the in pond race way system, one cell can produce yield equivalent to a two hectare pond. They found that they have ten times more yield per hectare with this system.

The system allows aqua farmers to use the same amount of water to produce more fish, significantly increasing a pond’s production potential while lowering per unit production costs, reducing risk, and improving yields by 10 times.

Dominguez represents the Alsons Aquaculture Corporation, one of the top companies in the country producing processed milkfish and selling it to Filipino communities all over the world. Besides processing milkfish products, the company also works with small fish farmers in Mindanao to promote their growth and include them in the value chain of Sarangani Bay processed milkfish.

Land-based aquaculture systems

Gur Ben Uri then proceeded to introduce Dagan Agricultural Automation’s developed Recirculation Aquaculture System (RAS). RAS is a system that reuses water as many times as possible. Instead of the traditional method of growing fish outdoors, this system rears fish at high densities in indoor tanks with a controlled environment.

Gur agreed that aquaculture production has been steadily declining. It isn’t just a Philippine phenomenon, but is happening worldwide. The technology developed by Dagan is made to be sustainable and progressive in order to mitigate the factors that cause the decline.

He introduced the company’s complete production cycle. He said that the whole aquaculture system, from broodstock to packaging, of the company is done within their system. There is nothing taken from the seas or from nature and with their system, they are able to have a year-round production of fingerlings and a year-round supply of their produce to markets.

Gur showed how Dagan was able to introduce their aquaculture systems to different regions in the world, such as China. A video demonstrated the large-scale construction of the company’s RAS operation in Fujian. From the video, Dagan’s RAS uses an aquaponic system where lettuce and herbs growing on water serves as a biological filter for the water provided to manmade fishponds, and in return, the water from the fishponds carry nutrients that would enrich the plants’ growth.

Cobi Levanon was the last to introduce his company’s developed aquaculture system. Biofishency is a company that strives to develop advanced water treatment systems and sustainable land-based aquaculture systems. 

Like Dominguez, Lebanon discussed how fisheries should shift to more intensive aquaculture systems. He presented data showing the differences of existing aquaculture systems and how high water consumption is for traditional, extensive ponds in exchange for low yields. He supports Dominguez’ claim that intensive aquaculture practices produce far more with less resources.

Beyond the extensive and intensive aquaculture systems, Levanon also shows the true benefit of RAS: high productivity, low water consumption, and not dependant on a marine location, meaning RAS is the future for land-based aquaculture.

Similar to Dagan, Biofishency also presents RAS as their system to introduce to the Philippines. However, they add that treatment of the water is also important. “If you treat the water right you are able to increase production,” Levanon said.

Their water treatment system is a simple plug-and-play biological filter for ammonia removal. It’s efficient, has a small carbon footprint, and environmentally-friendly. The water treatment is assistive to Biofishency’s RAS but can also be used with existing fisheries for increased productivity.

Levanon said that the company’s RAS can vary in size and the small-scale system can be constructed in less than a month. He showed a video which demonstrated a small-scale RAS for a farmer who has never grown fish in his life, but is able to easily operate the system due to its automated technology.

Levanon also introduced a system which uses a satellite fish farm model and incorporated the company’s own developed technology. The model is a central farm surrounded by satellite farms, where small-scale farmers can rely on a central figure which provides support such as fingerlings, feeds and training.

Israel is a dry, arid country, but has found success in aquaculture. The Philippines is a country rich in marine resources, however, Israel has proven that they can do more with less. The systems developed by Israel should be welcomed and considered locally in order to further develop our own aquaculture industry.

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