Small-scale aquaculture development: Experiences from the Philippines on giant freshwater prawn, milkfish and tilapia

The Aquaculture Department of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC/AQD) has been promoting a number of programs towards effective dissemination and adoption of science-based aquaculture technologies for rural aquaculture development. This is in line with the national government development program on sustainable aquaculture, which is implemented in agreement with the country’s Fisheries Code of 1998 and Local Government Code of 1991.

SEAFDEC AQD, through its Binangonan Freshwater Station (BFS), offers extension services and training courses on freshwater aquaculture. Also, AQD has been providing technical support to other countries through a series of regional trainings on freshwater aquaculture to facilitate the dissemination of aquaculture technologies and to capacitate the various stakeholders on this aspect. Aside from training activities, AQD established the Agree-Build-Operate-Transfer (ABOT) AquaNegosyo program which caters to private investors. In this program, AQD assists fish farmers from site selection, design and construction of facilities and monitoring of production run until harvest. Another program is called the Institutional Capacity Development for Sustainable Aquaculture (ICDSA) which aims to establish partnerships and build the capacities of local government units (LGUs), community-based organization and non-government organizations (NGOs), fishery schools and other local institutions. This is through training and information dissemination, on-farm demonstration and on-site consultations on fish culture.

AQD continues to carry out research and development (R&D) activities on various commodities and disciplines. One of the R&D programs developed by AQD is the “Meeting Social and Economic Challenges in Aquaculture Program” or MSECAP. This program aims to develop and implement social and economic strategies in aquaculture and resource management for food security and poverty alleviation in rural communities (Salayo et al. 2012). The five-year targets (2012-2016) of the MSECAP are directed on the implementation of R&D activities which include the (1) promotion of aquaculture technologies in inland and coastal communities through verification and on-site demonstration activities and (2) the development of appropriate technology adoption pathways for aquaculture technologies, among others (Salayo et al., 2012).

Success stories AQD has implemented various initiatives aimed to accelerate the successful promotion and adoption of freshwater aquaculture technologies in the Philippines and in other countries. These activities were carried out in response to the needs of the community, that is, to provide them with the basic knowledge and training on culture of commercially-important species. In these studies, AQD identified several modalities in accepting technology in different areas or communities where various techno-demo activities were implemented. The types of modality for technology adoption include people organizations (POs), fisheries cooperatives and fish farmer cooperators. The modalities of the technology demonstration project on three important commodities (i.e. giant freshwater prawn, milkfish and tilapia) were briefly discussed.

Giant freshwater prawn

The BFS in Binangonan, Rizal, Philippines started its pioneering work on the grow-out culture of giant freshwater prawn (GFP; Macrobrachium rosenbergii) in lake-based cages (Cuvin-Aralar et al., 2007). This species can also be used in polyculture with other freshwater species such as tilapia (SEAFDEC 2009). Locally known as ulang, it is considered a promising alternative to lobster and tiger prawn due to its high market value and export potential. The world production of this species rose from 17,000 T in 1993 to more than 200,000 T in 2002, and the Philippines has successfully made it to the top 15 producers in 2008 (FAO 2004-2014).

Farming of GFP in cages could be a sustainable option for the growth of aquaculture in lake-shore fish farming communities, similar to other well-known species such as bighead carp, milkfish and tilapia. In 2011, AQD thru BFS has assisted the Lunsad Multi-purpose Cooperative (LMPC) of Binangonan, Rizal for GFP cage culture. Convinced with the potentials on the grow-out farming of GFP, this cooperative tapped AQD’s technical expertise for the conduct of a pilot project on growout culture. The project was implemented with a grant from the Microfinance Council of the Philippines through its Financial Product Innovations Fund (FPIF). Prior to the inception of the project, a two-day training course on the culture of GFP was held at BFS and attended by the farmer members of LMPC. AQD also provided technical assistance to LMPC farmers during site selection and stocking of prawn juveniles in cage modules, and on monthly monitoring of stocks and water quality. Partial harvest of marketable-sized prawns was done jointly by the LMPC farmers and the BFS staff after four months of culture and sold in the nearby market. The cooperative was enticed by the promising results of the partial harvest. However, the activities were discontinued as LMPC farmer members needed to resolve some internal problems.

In addition, verification and demonstration studies that will lead to the adoption of cage culture of giant freshwater prawn among smallholder fishfarmer in Laguna de Bay, Philippines are currently underway as part of AQD’s effort to provide the fish farmers with a high value commodity. Verification trials were conducted and fish farmer cooperators who will later be involved in the project were invited to participate and observe during sampling of the stocks. After five months of culture, production ranged from 0.12 to 0.15 kg/m2. About 40 fish farmers from adjacent fishing communities were invited for a series of preliminary meeting to discuss the project and its objectives. Nonetheless, only two fish farmer cooperators were involved in the demonstration activities. The fish farmer cooperators provided the cage and facilities, and expenses for GFP growout operation and maintenance. AQD, on the other hand, trained and provided the fish farmer cooperators with GFP postlarvae (PL) for its first year of operation and monitored the progress of grow-out activities. Scoping for potential partners to finance such demonstration activities was also done in consultation with the national government agencies like the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA).


Milkfish (Chanos chanos) is considered one of the commercially-important species for aquaculture in the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan. Of the world aquaculture production of milkfish of nearly 595,000 T in 2005, about 49% was contributed by the Philippines, followed by 43% and 8% from Indonesia and Taiwan, respectively. This species is now cultured intensively in ponds, cages and pens.

In 2006, AQD provided technical assistance on milkfish cage culture to a fisherfolk organization that was severely affected by an oil-spill event in one of the municipalities of Guimaras Island in central Philippines. AQD trained the affected fishers in two fishing villages on milkfish cage culture. The project was supported by the municipal and provincial government of Guimaras with funds from Citi-Petron, and managed by Taytay sa Kauswagan, Inc. (TSKI), a non-government micro-finance institution. The project was successful as the organization gained income from milkfish harvest.


Tilapia ranks third, after seaweeds and milkfish, in terms of the major species produced in the aquaculture and fisheries (BFAR Philippine Fisheries Profile, 2010). In 2010, the tilapia industry contributed about 258,800 T or 10.17% of the total fisheries production. Tilapia production has been progressively increasing over the last 30 years. It rose from 26,800 T in 1981 to 303,169 T in 2011 (34.37% growth) with highest production obtained in 2009 at 304,303 T. About 95% of tilapia was produced from freshwater culture (BAS 2012).

Farming of tilapia helped the fisheries sector in generating income and employment. For the past 30 years, the value of tilapia production jumped from PhP102,000 to PhP19.07 million (BAS 2012). In 2011, BAS conducted a Costs and Returns Survey of Tilapia Production which covered the six major tilapia producing provinces (i.e. Pampanga, Batangas, Camarines Sur, Iloilo, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat) in the Philippines. Results showed that tilapia farming is the main occupation of 60.97% of farm operators surveyed (BAS 2011).

AQD focused its early research efforts in 1980s towards improving growth and survival of tilapia in the nursery and grow-out cages, ponds and pens (Carlos and Santiago 1988). AQD’s early studies on cage farming of tilapia started the proliferation of tilapia cage culture in Laguna Lake which was followed by the private sector. In response to the recurring problem on fish kills in freshwater lakes in the Philippines, AQD took the lead role in doing ecological or limnological studies, focusing on the impact of tilapia aquaculture practices on the natural productivity and carrying capacity of these waters for aquaculture. AQD, in collaboration with BFAR, verified and demonstrated more efficient feeding management schemes to reduce the cost of feeds and increase in yield of tilapia grown in cages (Cuvin-Aralar et al. 2012). This helped in the promotion of better aquaculture management practices in areas where culture of tilapia is being intensified.

To help the displaced farmers who were affected by typhoon, AQD thru its ICDSA program introduced the tilapia grow-out culture to cooperative members who owned the submerged agricultural lands in municipality of Dumarao, Capiz, in Western Visayas in 2007. The cooperative was not able to sustain the farm operations due to its inactiveness. The individual coop members ended up operating their own farms through backyard culture of tilapia and practice of alternative day feeding as a strategy to reduce operation costs.

With funding support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), AQD partnered with BFAR on tilapia cage culture in Bicol Region, Philippines (Cuvin-Aralar et al., 2011; 2012). The two-year project aims to improve cage culture management by fish farmers to improve economic returns as well as to reduce the environmental impact of aquaculture in Lakes Buhi and Bato, which are among the major lakes in Rinconada area. The areas were chosen as project sites as they ranked second in terms of poverty incidence in the Philippines (Cuvin-Aralar et al. 2011). The fish farmer cooperators in the two lakes were involved in the project implementation.

Overstocking of tilapia in cages has been identified as the poor farmer’s practice that has to be modified for sustainable usage of the lakes. With this, stocking density trials and different feeding management schemes were tested in the two lakes. Verification trials were also conducted in Laguna Lake, Philippines. Results showed that stocking density of 10 pcs/m2 and skip feeding are recommended for a more profitable production of tilapia in cages (Cuvin-Aralar et al. 2011). Thus, the study on the lake was very timely and necessary for the benefits of the fish-farmers as well as other stakeholders.

Training programs on freshwater aquaculture From 2011-2013, AQD thru its BFS conducted several training programs to about 171 government officers from SEAFDEC member countries (Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines), fish farmers, technicians, researchers, extension workers, entrepreneurs, teachers, local government officers and personnel, and other private workers from within and outside the country. The training programs were focused on the hatchery and grow-out operations of tilapia, bighead carp, native catfish and giant freshwater prawn.

In response to the need to promote freshwater aquaculture especially for rural aquaculture, the Government of Japan – Trust Fund (GOJ-TF) project provided financial support in the conduct of two international training courses: (a) Giant Freshwater Prawn Training Program; and, (b) Community-Based Freshwater Aquaculture for Rural Areas in Southeast Asia (CBFWA). The GFP training program was held for two consecutive years (2011-2012). Since 2004, the GOJ-TF supports GFP research in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. The training is expected to provide the participants with the technical knowledge and skills on the breeding, propagation and culture of the GFP to (1) enable them to start a freshwater hatchery of the species mentioned, (2) update their knowledge in recent developments in freshwater prawn breeding and seedstock production, and (3) learn verified methods in farming freshwater prawns particularly in cages and ponds. The training was an opportune time for exchange of knowledge and experiences in prawn breeding and farming between the participants and the AQD resource persons. Considerable progress has been made ever since and now science-based technologies in prawn aquaculture are available and are ready for dissemination to the other countries in the region.

The CBFWA training courses, in collaboration with AQD, were attended by representatives from SEAFDEC member countries. To recognize the need to promote and transfer rural freshwater aquaculture technologies in remote rural areas of Southeast Asia for rural development, SEAFDEC initiated a project on the “Promotion of Sustainable Freshwater Aquaculture for Rural Communities” under the GOJ-TF Program with Lao PDR as the main beneficiary country. In line with the project goal, the training aims to (1) capacitate aquaculture extension officers on community organizing through participatory approach; (2) enhance their knowledge and skills on freshwater aquaculture technologies from broodstock development to seed production, nursery and grow-out phase; and (3) enhance their skills in the transfer and extension services of freshwater aquaculture technologies.

In collaboration with SEAFDEC partners, the training sessions were held in Lao PDR from 2007 to 2009 with government extension officers from SEAFDEC member countries as participants. Resource persons came from DOF-Thailand as well as experts from SEAFDEC and partner organizations, namely: Mekong River Commission (MRC) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). From 2010, this training program has been entrusted to AQD in recognition for its extensive R&D projects on freshwater aquaculture as well as its track record in information and training activities.

Conclusion AQD’s research and training efforts on many aspects of freshwater fish breeding and culture paved the way for the development of the small-scale freshwater aquaculture sector in the Philippines. AQD has developed various technologies for freshwater commodities such as giant freshwater prawn, milkfish and tilapia culture which have already been adopted by the small-scale fishfarmers in the country. However, AQD will continue to package and disseminate all the generated research information and technologies on freshwater aquaculture through information materials, training and seminars to target end-users. Through the use of appropriate culture and feeding management strategies, AQD shall educate and train the fish farmers on environment-friendly aquaculture practices. All of these will translate to improved fish production, increased income for lake-shore farming communities, and sustainability of inland water resources for aquaculture.


Creative Commons Attribution.


JICA / NACA / DOF International Symposium on Small-scale Freshwater Aquaculture Extension

The symposium provided a venue for information sharing on extension of small-scale aquaculture targeted to those individuals and relevant organisations involved in various aquaculture development projects. The symposium also assessed and presented the effectiveness of “farmer-to-farmer extension” approaches in the implementation of relevant aquaculture development projects in the region. The symposium was organised by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), NACA and the Thai Department of Fisheries.