Called mekong kanduli and kanduhito in Filipino, the rising demand in the international market for this family of catfish has started to create ripples in the local agricultural world.
It started rather innocently. Early this year, top managers of Vitarich Corporation went to Vietnam and came across this freshwater fish called by many names: Siamese shark, sutchi catfish, swai, white or striped catfish. Scientifically called Pangasius hypopthalamus, these slender, elongated silverish to bluish-bodied fishes that can grow at 4ft in length and can weigh up to a maximum of 44 kg have been making waves in Vietnam because they are processed into fillets and are exported to Russia, Poland, Spain, USA, Netherlands, China, etc.
Marketing and sales expert Jose de Leon Angeles, Vitarich’s national marketing manager, who was with the team that went to Vietnam, was one of those who saw the potential of pangasius being cultured and grown in the Philippines on a commercial scale. “When we started to ask around, we found that there were already small breeders of pangasius here but they were not doing this on a commercial scale,” Angeles said. “They are bred only in aquariums because they are still considered as ornamental fishes.”
Seeing the growing market potential for pangasius, Vitarich soon found business partners in two aquaculture companies — Blue Bay Aqua Ventures, Inc. and Aqua Trends, Inc. both of which have the expertise to breed and market the pangasius fingerlings. “And since Vitarich has the technology on feeds to grow the fishes, the partnership was solidified and we’re working on this project to propagate pangasius.” Angeles disclosed.
Some local fishermen, though do not share the same level of excitement as Angeles and his partners do. “There’s this degree of hesitation among them and it’s understandable,” the agricultural sales and marketing veteran declares. “They are still afraid because there is no clear market. They would invest money but are doubtful if there are buyers out there. So we said there ought to be one final progam of the project and that is to sort of give our farmer-fishermen insurance—and that’s a buy back. We thought of a risk-sharing thing. They have to pay for the inputs, but they are assured of the buyers — and that is us.”
And why would farmer-fishermen go into pangasius farming when there’s the growing local tilapia and bangus market that could always be tapped? Angeles has this answer: “Number one, the common concern in aquaculture today, especially if you’re involved in tilapia and bangus farming, is that they are not as durable or as hardy as pangasius.
Bangus and tilapia cannot survive without oxygen. Pangasius can survive at an oxygen level of 0.01 — that’s almost no oxygen at all! Therefore, pangasisus can be spared from calamities such as fish kill and pollution because they have the capability to breathe in the surface.