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Breeding the Expensive Maliputo Fish and Helping Its Fry Get to Taal Lake

The maliputo served as sinigang at Taal Bistro.

While on a day-tour of the Municipality of Taal last Saturday, over lunch at the famous Taal Bistro, a bit of trivia mentioned by our host Joseph Razon, whose family owns the restaurant, had my ears instantly pricking up with interest. I had previously written an article about the bistro entitled “Taal Bistro: the Maliputo Alone is Worth the Trip.”

However, in a previous visit to the town, a museum guide told me that maliputo catches were on the decline, partly due to the siltation of the Pansipit River. Thus, I wanted to know from Razon if the restaurant still served maliputo at all. It did, he reassured me. A Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) station in Butong (a barangay of Taal), he told me, was artificially breeding the fish and then transporting its fry over land for release into Taal Lake.

For the benefit of those not from these parts, the maliputo is the caranx ignobilis or the giant trevally1, a tropical fish found in the Indo-Pacific region2. The maliputo, however, is native to Taal Lake. It breeds at the mouth of the Panisipit River, Taal Lake’s outlet to Balayan Bay, where the waters are estuarine or a mixture of freshwater from the lake and marine from the bay. Its fingerlings then migrate up the Pansipit into the lake, adapting to its freshwaters3.

The Giant Trevally. By Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR - http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/reef0735.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2114432.

When grown, the maliputo is considered to be one of eight species of fishes found in Taal Lake with high commercial value and is also regarded as among the tastiest fishes not only in the Philippines but in the whole of Southeast Asia3. We had stopped by the tiny lakeshore Municipality of San Nicolas last Saturday before driving on to Taal and asked some locals what the current going rate is for the maliputo. It is an astounding ₱600 per kilogram at the town’s public market, more expensive than prawns sold in airconditioned supermarkets.

I am unable to find documentation confirming the museum guide’s claim that siltation of the Pansipit River is preventing the migration of the trevally and causing its decline, albeit this seems to be common knowledge among folks in Taal and the adjoining town of Lemery.

However, a March 2016 post by BFAR Region IV-A on its Facebook page mentioned a “request to dredge the Pansipit” and then-Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala asking an assembly of Batangas fishermen to give him 2½ months to procure dredging equipment4.

During our brief stop at San Nicolas, one of the locals pointed at a barge on the lakeshore promenade which he said was to be used for the dredging of the river. I could not, however, but take the gentleman’s information with a grain of salt because he was already tipsy with drink. At ten in the morning.

Other plausible causes of the maliputo’s decline are overfishing and the declining quality of the lake’s waters. A 2011 article originally published in the Manila Bulletin stated that the maliputo, while not altogether considered endangered, is at the very least seen as “rare5.”

Apparently, maliputo fry are trapped at the estuary in Balayan Bay leading to the Panipit River or as they swam along the river itself on their way to the lake. They are kept in fine mesh nets and eased along the river to allow them to get used to the increasingly fresher waters until they are ready for transport to fish cages in the lake. There, they are of course grown for commercial purposes3.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of aquaculture by way of fish cages, while it boosted fish production from 1993 to 1998, also saw “the deterioration of water quality which results to fishkill6.” Add to this the fact that adult sexually-mature maliputo are also caught along the Pansipit and it is easy to see why the fish has become rare3.

The situation, however, is not irreversible, as I learned from Razon. In fact, the BFAR succeeded in artificially breeding the maliputo as far back as 2006. The feat was achieved by a team of aqua-culturists led by Ma. Theresa Mutia. According to then-BFAR Director Malcolm Sarmiento Jr., it was the first time the trevally was bred while in captivity “in the country if not the world7.”

The process was described in the abstract of a paper published by the Aquaculture Department, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center. Sexually mature maliputo were intramuscularly injected with hormones and allowed to spawn in fish tanks. Larvae that hatched were allowed to grow in concrete tanks.

Image credit:  Philippine Culture and Studies.

As of the paper’s presentation and publication in 2015, a total of 400,000 maliputo larvae had been provided to private hatcheries for larvae rearing trials. Another 100,000 larvae were released in Balayan Bay; while 5,000 fingerlings were released in the lake8.

Whether the maliputo can be restored to its former bounty remains to be seen. Even if it has been successfully bred artificially, whether it can flourish again appears dependent on many factors such as giving it a free route up the Pansipit into Taal Lake. Once there, whether the lake’s waters are hospitable or not appears to be another consideration. A lot depends not just on government but also on the communities that depend on the river and lake for their livelihood.

Given that the maliputo is currently priced at ₱600, the law of supply and demand tells us that the program to repopulate the lake with maliputo bred in captivity has some way to go before we can all call it a success.

Notes and references:
1Giant trevally,” Wikipedia.
2 “The Indo-Pacific, sometimes known as the Indo-West Pacific, is a biogeographic region of the Earth's seas, comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia.” Direct quote from Wikipedia.
3Maliputo (Caranx Ignobilis FOORSKAL), Fish Cage Farming Practices Among Selected Operators in Taal Lake, Batangas, Philippines,” by Sofia A. Alaira and Carmelita M. Rebancos, published in the UPLB Journal of Nature Studies.
4Php 31 M worth of fisheries livelihood assistance distributed to Batangas Fisherfolk,” by BFAR Region IV-A CALABARZON on its Facebook page.
5The Unique Maliputo,” originally published by the Manila Bulletin, online at Yahoo.
6Eliciting Local Ecological Knowledge and Community Perception on Fishkill in Taal Lake through Participatory Approaches,” by Damasa Magcale-Macandog, Christian Paul P. de la Cruz, Jennifer D. Edrial, Marlon A. Reblora, Jaderick P. Pabico, Arnold R. Salvacion, Teodorico L. Marquez, Jr., Paula Beatrice M. Macandog and Diezza Khey B. Perez, published December 2014 in the Journal of Environmental Science and Management.
7BFAR successfully breeds ‘maliputo’ in captivity,” published April 2006 in the Philippine Star.
8Induced breeding of giant trevally, maliputo (Caranx ignobilis),” online at the Aquaculture Department, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center.

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