The Basics of Pangasius Aquaculture, Part 1 Primer

Pangasius is commonly called as river or silver stripped catfish, Siamese shark, sutchi catfish, or swai catfish. This fish species live in freshwater and endemic to the Mekong basin. It is a riverine catfish belonging to the members of the family Pangasidae. It exhibits fast growth when cultured given a good environment.

It was first introduced in the Philippines by BFAR in a research station in Tanay in 1981. Breeding trials commenced in 1985 and protocols for breeding and grow-out of the fish had been urbanized ever since. Since then, BFAR has dispersed brood stocks of Pangasius in Regions II and III.

Because of the inadequate market as food fish in the past, fingerlings produced were sold in the ornamental or aquarium business as “hammerhead”. However, the recent recognition of Pangasius fillet in both the global and the local upscale markets have re-energized the aquaculture industry’s interest in farming the fish as a food commodity.

Big volumes of Pangasius are being imported from Vietnam finding their way to local upscale restaurants and hotels. In fact, Pangasius dishes are now being served locally under several exotic names such as Cobbler Fish, Cream Dory Fish, Basa Fish and others.

Agrilink 2007 saw the first unveiling of Pangasius. Pangga, as some have called it, may indeed become true to its name as a “darling” to Philippine freshwater aquaculture. “Pangga” is a short form of “palangga” which means darling in Ilonggo.

Pangasius excited everyone because of its ability to grow from 20 gram fingerlings to one kilo in six months with a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 1.5 which means you produce one kilo of fish meat with 1.5 kilos of feed.

With a survival rate of almost 100%, production cost amounts to less than Php40 per kilo. It can be stocked intensively at the rate of 300,000 fish per hectare without requiring mechanical aeration. When filleted it becomes what is known in international trade as a “generic white fish” that is now used by restaurants as a replacement for the more pricey marine fish.

Philippines fish farmers and processors think there are still plenty of prospects to sell the fish overseas because of its emergent popularity in the world market. At present, Pangasius is produced chiefly in Vietnam, which exported 242,704 metric tons of fillets worth $US709.6o2 from January to September 2006—up by 34-55% in volume and 37.2% in values.
Filipino growers and exporters are ogling at this market in the not-so distant future. The importation of fingerlings used to be the foremost limitation in the growth of a local

Pangasius industry. But thanks to the revolutionary effort of agriculturists and other enthusiasts, fingerlings are now available in the market.

From Vietnam to the Philippines

The powerful Mekong is one of the 12 biggest rivers in the world. It runs from the snowy peaks of Tibet down through Miramar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and finally into the Mekong Delta in the South of Vietnam and waters with its partly rough currents and falls some 800,000 square kilometers.

The Mekong is also called the Water of Life for the largest Rice Bowl in Asia, the Mekong Delta, for without its annual flooding, no rice could be produced there. But it is also the Mother of all fish-rivers as some 20 different species of catfish can be found in the Mekong, which are all native in the Mekong River and travel this stream like the Salmon travels the Streams of Scotland Ireland or Canada.

Each River Environment in the World knows its own Catfishes. There are the Silurus Catfish in Europe, Ictalurus Catfish in the Mississippi Delta in the USA and the Pangasius Catfish belongs to the Mekong. Pangasius lives as migrant fish going up the river when ready to spawn and travel the River down as juveniles. They like the warm water and the wet season best that lasts in the Mekong Delta from March until late October each year.

A magnificent family member is the Pangasius gigas, called the Giant Catfish, that can grow up to 3 meters and weigh up to 150-200 kilograms, with the largest catch on record being a female 2.7 meters long and weighing 293 kg.

Scientifically Speaking

Pangasius belongs to a full family of catfish living in the Mekong and its estuaries in Vietnam. Two members of this family can be farmed—the Pangasius hypophthalmus (Vietnamese: Tra) and the Pangasius bocourti (Vietnamese: Basa). 95% of the 600.000 tons farmed in 2006 have been Pangasius hypophthalmus.

The Pangasius is a genus of catfishes of the family Pangasiidae. In 1993, Pangasius was one of two genera in the family Pangasiidae. At this point, it was separated into four subgenera: Pangasianodon, PteroPangasius, NeoPangasius and Pangasius.

Pangasianodon included P. gigas and P. hypophthalmus and was diagnosed by the absence of mandibular barbels, the absence of teeth in adults and the presence of a single lobed swimbladder. PteroPangasius included P. micronema and P. pleurotaenia and was diagnosed by four lobes in the swimbladder and with multiple segments in the last lobe. NeoPangasius included P. nieuwenhuisii, P. humeralis, P. lithostoma, P. kinabatanganensis, diagnosed by palatal teeth arranged in a single large patch and high vertebral counts. And Pangasius was the final subgenus and had no diagnostic features, containing the remaining species.

These subgeneric classifications were confirmed in 2000 except for NeoPangasius, which was found to be polyphyletic and was eventually classified under Pangasius, thus leaving three subgenera: Pangasianodon, PteroPangasius, and Pangasius.

Since then, the subgenera have been variably recognized as separate. P. gigas and P. hypophthalmus have been classified in the genus Pangasianodon, and P. micronemus and P. pleurotaenia in the genus Pseudolais (with PteroPangasius as a junior synonym).

Subgenus of Pangasianodon include Mekong giant catfish, Pangasius gigas Chevey, 1931 and Iridescent Shark, Pangasius hypophthalmus (Sauvage, 1878).

author: Hans Audrice B. Estalbo, Marid Digest



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