Embracing Novel Gateways of Hope for Philippines’ Aquaculture System

Article by Nicole Mae J. Halasan
Illustration by Kristi Anne D. Seredrica
Published 2020 October 7

“It all boils down to trust”…

These are the words quipped by Dra. Ragaza when she was asked about her contention about the fisher folks’ hesitation in adapting to the current trends in improving the aquaculture system in the country in accordance to the risks that the sector poses to biodiversity. She was an aquaculturist and one of the authors of the research article entitled, “Some Current Trends and Challenges in Philippine Aquaculture with an Emphasis on Synergies with Biodiversity Initiatives”. It was mainly authored by a faculty member of the Department of Biology of Ateneo de Manila University, Ronald Allan L. Cruz and along with this endeavor are his co-authors, Vikas Kumar and Janice A. Ragaza, Ph.D. The study unraveled the current situation of the aquaculture system in the Philippines and how the challenges encountered by this sector were being dealt with by coming up with modern and economic initiatives and programs proposed by several private and government forces. 

With the Philippines being an archipelago bounded by a multitude bodies of water, it is no surprise that it is a major fishing nation that consists mainly of the aquaculture sector. Aquaculture is the rearing of aquatic organisms for food which attributes for 51 percent of the country’s total fish production, equivalent to around 2.35 million tonnes [1]. Aquaculture in the country is carried out in three environments namely freshwater, brackish water, and marine using various culture systems along with different degrees of intensification [2]. In view of this marine wealth, the Philippines ranked fifth globally in 2014 for its total aquaculture production of finfishes, mollusks, crustaceans, other aquatic animals and aquatic plants. Moreover, most of its production was gained from seaweed farming and having milkfish and tilapia as the most important fish species in this sector [2]. 

However, it was delineated in the research that behind the abundance it confers to the consumers are the threats and impacts that it actually yields to the environment. To wit, the major negative effects that it instigates include the introduction of invasive species in natural waters that eventually causes ecological imbalance. It also results in water eutrophication which happens when there is an increase in the load of nutrients causing algal bloom and even fish kills [3]. Eutrophication in this case is an effect of the excessive fish farm structures and degradation of water quality due to the effluents coming from the aquaculture’s production system. This is indeed evident in the waters of Taal Lake where concentrations of total dissolved solids, nitrates, and phosphates in aquaculture cage sites are strikingly greater than in areas free of such activities. It also spurs the conversion of unguarded and valuable natural ecosystems for the purpose of aquaculture as well as the transmission of diseases from aquaculture species to wild fish and the pressure on wild fish populations for fishmeal production [4]. At worst, these biodiversity losses and threats of ecosystem disruption are further heightened by the preexisting climate change [1]. 

In view of these foregoing predicaments, corresponding programs and interventions are dynamically pursued by government and private sectors such as the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center Aquaculture Department (SEAFDEC/AQD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In particular, the SEAFDEC/AQD devised four research and development programs related to biodiversity wherein the first one investigates the impact of aquaculture on the aquatic animals’ biodiversity near the Binangonan Freshwater Station while the other three programs incorporated the ranching of seahorses and sea cucumbers given that the two animal groups draw the most interest for possible poaching. It is easier to note that in contrast with the illegal wildlife trade, wildlife farming, which is the legal commercial domestication of traded organisms was promoted by conservationists to avoid such exploitation [1]. 

To boot, genetic enhancement programs and biosecurity which are measures taken to mitigate the spread of diseases across various finfish and shellfish species were developed by the aforementioned organizations. In terms of ameliorating aquaculture practices, molecular techniques like nested Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and lateral flow strip biosensors as diagnostic tools for shrimp pathogens and molecular markers for broodstock or aquaculture fish management that ensures the maximum survival and reproduction capacity of milk fishes were on the headway. On the other hand, capacity building for climate-resilient agri-fisheries is underway as adaptation to the effects of climate change. With regards to the biodiversity issues that this sector engenders, the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) established collaborations with different agencies to arrive with unconventional interventions that aim to withstand such concerns by using technological prowess and more defined structures of the plans. Some of these include the development and implementation of methods, tools and technologies for wetland management and the capacity refinement of various entities in the society to restrict the overexploitation and detrimental practices on aquaculture [1]. 

Given these actions taken by the concerned organizations in resolving these biodiversity issues, it can be inferred that although their development in obtaining the desired outcome is quite sluggish, what’s important is that they recognize the problems and are incessantly seeking novel gateways of hope amidst these recurring challenges in aquaculture. As Cruz averred in an interview, he also hopes that papers like their research article can influence policy-making with regard to regulation of aquaculture operations that threaten local biodiversity. Dr. Ragaza also urges the government to formulate sound policies and enact strict implementation for it not to become ornamental in nature as well as allocate budget for these current trends. Moreover, she also foregrounded that in order for these new research efforts not to be put into waste, scientists and fisherfolks should form deeper relationships so that real-world problems coming from the lens of fish farmers will be dealt with and so the aquaculture operators will be more amenable in adapting to these new economic technologies. Cruz also added saying that, “It is they who stand to lose their livelihood if their operations do not properly integrate environmental and ecological considerations that despite possibly steep initial costs, operations that are more environmentally friendly will be more cost-effective for them in the long run.” 

To cut the chase, this real state of the country’s current aquaculture system should be made known to everyone especially to the aquaculture operators who are in the frontline of receding the impacts of these biodiversity issues. It is also very important that along with the formulation of interventions and programs, the government and the whole community as well will do their respective roles in combating these issues in biodiversity and ecology. After all, it is also us who will either paint the town red as this lost paradise will be restored or will suffer because of our apathy to these growing menaces that we forthright bypassed.

References

  1. Cruz RA, Kumar V, Ragaza JA .c2019. Some current trends and challenges in Philippine aquaculture, with an emphasis on synergies with biodiversity initiatives [Internet]. Archium Ateneo: [cited 2020 Sept 26]. Available from: https://archium.ateneo.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=biology-faculty-pubs
  2. Market Information [Internet]. c2020. Aqua Fisheries Expo: [cited 2020 Sept 26]. Available from:https://www.aquafisheriesexpo.com/philippines/NEWS-UPDATES/MARKET-INFORMATION
  3. What is eutrophication? [Internet]. c2020. National Ocean Service: [cited 2020 Sept 26]. Available from: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication.html.
  4. Diana J. Aquaculture Production and biodiversity conservation. Bioscience. 2009. [cited 2020 Sept 26]. 59(1):27-38. DOI: 10.1525/bio.2009.59.1.7

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