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Pangasius Aquaculture


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).

Pangasius Hypophthalmus

The Pangasius goes by so many names. This fish went through a sea of naming since it pierced through the market. Some years ago, it was even sold as Sea-Sole and compared to the Dover Sole. Then it was used as White River Cobbler, US-Catfish, Swai and even Grouper and White Mekong Grouper. Some call it Stachelwels, which is its German biological classification. Some call it Basa even if it is in fact a Tra in Vietnamese. Some call it Hypo-Basa, which is a name-mix of hypophthalmus and Basa, which technically doesn’t exists because it’s either just a hypophthalmus or a Basa. Nowadays, abroad, it goes by the name White roughly, Royal basa, Mekong catfish, Pangasius catfish; and Mekong Kanduli, Kanduhito or Pangasius locally.

At the moment, even the so-called Bio-Pangasius is offered in the market. The fish from the Mekong Delta attracts over 65 markets in the world and 600.000 tons come from the farms mostly in An Giang and the River Hau, the biggest processing area for this valuable catfish in Vietnam.

On the other hand, issues have been raised by the Americans who have ruled out that the Pangasius from Vietnam aren’t catfish at all and that their Ictalurus are. However, biologically and scientifically the Pangasius remains a catfish because of its physical appearance and behavioral patterns that resemble other catfishes’. The Vietnamese do hope that the Pangasius will be named Pangasius all over the world.

Today, 98% of Pangasius in the market is Pangasius hypophthalmus. The other 2% is the very expensive Pangasius bocourti—sold at twice the price of Pangasius hypophthalmus.

This fish is easy to farm, easy to process and fast in reproduction-reasons enough to make Pangasius global aquaculture’s next in thing. In fact, Russia became a big market for it, and even the Japanese, who normally do not like freshwater fish (except of eel) and the French, (who never include Catfish in their haute cuisine) are starting to like this catch from the Mekong Farms.

It is easy to use, light to eat and fits every taste and kitchen, probably even more than salmon. The Pangasius changed the world of Aquaculture fish in general and will be as successful as the Salmon or the Tilapia.

Pangasius also acquired pet names like iridescent shark, Siamese shark or sutchi catfish, but despite its name, iridescent shark is not a shark, but a catfish. This fish is also associated with the aquarium hobby or as swai or striped catfish in the food fish market, or as panga (though this name should be rather used for Pterogymnus laniarius).

They are found in Southeast Asia in the Mekong basin as well as the Chao Phraya River, and are heavily cultivated for food there. It has also been presented into other river basins as a food source and is ordinary in the fish keeping hobby. It is named ‘iridescent’ for its glow or iridescence exhibited in juveniles.

In 2007 alone, the amount produced in the fish farms of the Mekong Delta will reach a million metric tons and it is expected that there will be more that would be reach until 2010. The fish is distributed already into 65 markets all over the world and one of the most successful whitefish species of all times and is probably only comparable to the seawater catches of Cod and Alaska Pollack. And certainly, the International Whitefish Convention, which meets in London this year is looking forward to more discussions about Pangasius.

The Advantage of Pangasius

We interviewed three people on why they think people should look at Pangasius as Philippine agriculture/ aquaculture’s next saving grace: (A) Marid Agribusiness Digest Chairman Angelito Sarmiento, (B) Vitarich Corp’s Marketing Director Ricardo Manuel Sarmiento and (C) Aqualine Assistant Marketing Manager Imee Chun.

Why should Filipinos welcome Pangasius?

  • A: This is the specie that’s easy to take care, user-friendly. This is what Filipinos have been looking for.
  • B: We’re trying to make a new industry. It’s an alternative fish that can generate jobs and income for the farmers. It’s an exportable fish.
  • C: It is now the most sought-after fish in US and Europe, and there is still an increasing demand for it in the worldwide market. We are blessed that we can culture it here in the Philippines since we have plenty of freshwater.

What is its difference from other fish like tilapia and bangus? And from other catfish that we know?

  • A: It’s blunt, bigger that other catfish, it has a texture compared to tilapia. And it goes with any sauce.
  • B: When it comes to raising, it doesn’t die easily. It grows faster. In fact, you can stock more in one area. You don’t have to make extra land and farm, you can do more volume and harvest in one area.
  • C: The difference is how it is culture and its sturdiness compared to bangus and tilapia. Sturdiness is its capability to live with low dissolve oxygen level because this fish is an air breather. This fish can be cultured in brackish water with certain water parameters, but this fish is really cultured in freshwater and not saltwater.

What is its market and capital investment?

  • A: It’s for Asians and Caucasians. Unlike bangus, it’s for everyone. It’s an alternative for the backyard piggeries in Manila, actually. B: Our initial market is the European country which imports large volume of Pangasius fillet. The fingerlings costs around P3 -P3-50 for 2 cm. Larger ones are for P6 and up. There are bulk discounts for big orders. Total production cost is about 80%. Harvestable size should be 1 kilo and up to fillet it for export. Fillet is sold at about P220- P280 per kilo in the Philippine supermarkets.
  • C: The capital investment would depend on the stocking density and the area of culture. Feed and fingerling cost is almost 70% of the total production. But with good quality fingerling and good management, a grower can hit market growing proficiency. The market would be local and international. Locally, we are developing and introducing the fish to the market by giving out seminars and trainings. For international market, we would want to tap the European market since it is a very big market for fillet exports. But we are not limiting it in Europe only, we would want to also look for the other countries that are also importing this fish.

What is its export market potential?

  • A: To lessen import and at the same time, earn plus points by exporting.
  • B: Biggest market is Europe, as well as US and Australia. We’d like to ship samples.
  • C: The market potential of Pangasius is very big since many countries are really net importers of this fish and Vietnam’s production is really increasing. These are just some of the factors why we think that there is a big potential in the international market and that this fish can help the aquatic industry grow when we would export fillets.

Physical Characteristics

Naturally, the Pangasius lives in the two main streams of the Mekong Delta, called Cuu Long and the Nine Mouths of the Dragon. They are the River Tien in the northern part of the Delta and the River Hau that runs from the Cambodian border South through the region of An Giang to reach the Sea.

All the Pangasius found living here in the Wild have been classified and developed by French scientists into two species for farming. The first fish they farmed was the Pangasius bocourti also called Basa by the Vietnamese. This fish needs 12 months to grow to market size of about 2 kilos of weight and gives a white fillet meat of high fat content.

Like most catfishes, Pangasius’ body is elongated and the tail is deeply forked. It has a cylindrical body and a dorsal portion that is grayish. Its stomach is whitish. They have large eyes and a small mouth. The body is silver to blue with a silver iridescence. The back is darker than the main body color. A slender, horizontal, white stripe extends from the base of the tail to the gill cover. The fins are light gray to transparent. The fins are dark grey or black.

Juveniles have a black stripe along the lateral line and a second black stripe below the lateral line. They have a black stripe along the lateral line and a second black stripe below the lateral line; they have a shiny, iridescent color that gives these fish their name. However, large adults are uniformly grey and lack the striping. Adults reach up to 130 cm (4 ft) in length and     can weigh up to a maximum of 44.0 kg (97 lb).

Adult Pangasius choose large bodies of water similar to the deep waters of its native Mekong River Basin. Pangasius Catfish are a freshwater fish that natively live in a tropical climate and prefer water with a 22 to 26 °C.

The Pangasius has a typical appearance with its black back and white belly, so it is the only White Catfish in the world. Under the chin the fish wears some fat storage in a skin sack. This fat-store has the same purpose like the fat layers under the back of the salmon. This fat is used to grow the eggs and the sperm before maturing.

In the wild, their omnivorous diet consists of crustaceans, other fish, and plant matter. Catfish feed mostly from the ground and have no teeth. They have small whiskers that can feel in the dark of the water small plants and animals that are swallowed then.

Dealing with Juveniles

Juvenile iridescent sharks are often sold as pets for home aquariums. Nonetheless, they are not easy to watch over and are not suggested for most home aquariums. Iridescent sharks are schooling fish that prefer to be kept in groups of 5 or more. Juveniles are initially omnivores but eventually turn herbivorous when they grow up.

Familiarized to living in rivers, they are very lively fish that have need of a lot of space. If strained, their first impulse is to run off, and such a blind sprint can result in injuries, especially in an aquarium setting. These attempts to escape may be terminated by the fish sinking to the bottom, where it may lie on its side or back until it recovers. They also have bad eyesight so they may swim into the glass of a tank and hurt themselves.

Numerous fish owners are unconscious of the massive size that an iridescent shark can attain. If given enough space and fed satisfactorily, an individual of this species can achieve 3 feet in length. In most home aquariums, the amount of space an iridescent shark has rigorously stunts its enlargement. Consequently, most iridescent sharks kept in home aquaria develop to only six to twelve inches in length. As a rule of thumb, an iridescent shark requires a minimum tank size of 150 cm (5 feet). Schools require even larger tanks.

The biggest challenge for the Vietnamese Pangasius farmers and the aquaculture industry in general was to grow their own juveniles. In Vietname, all the areas that produce Pangasius today, that are An Giang (145,500 tons annually), Can Tho (93,000 tons), Dong Thap (81,500 tons), Vinh Long (35,000 tons), Soc Trang (15,000 tons) and Hau Giang (6,300 tons) in 2005, can supply juveniles themselves from the hatchery now.

Ultimately, the Pangasius Catfish is a traveler. A migratory species, moving upstream of the Mekong from unknown rearing     areas to reproduce in unidentified areas from May to July and returning to the mainstream when the river waters fall seeking rearing habitats in September until December.

Upstream migration occurs from October to February, with peak in November and December. This migration is set off by diminishing water and appears to be a dispersal migration following the lateral migration from swamped areas back into the Mekong at the end of the flood season. Downstream migration takes place from May to August from Cambodia and further into the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

Dr. Alma Palma, BFAR’s Station Manager explained, “Pangasius was actually brought by the ornamental fish traders. It’s called a freshwater hammerhead shark. It was brought to National Event Fisheries Technology Center in Tanay where a part of the private sector wanted to culture it commercially in Laguna. We started to culture it there and at that time, there was no demand for its meat yet.”

Iridescent sharks originated from the large rivers Chao Phraya and Mekong in Asia, though they have been introduced into other rivers for aquaculture. They are a freshwater fish that natively live in a tropical climate and prefer water with a 6.5 – 7.5 pH, a water hardness of 2.0 to 29.0 dGH, and a temperature range of 72 to 79 °F (22 to 26 °C).

They prefer large bodies of water similar to the deep waters of their native Mekong river basin. The iridescent shark is a migratory fish that moves upstream to spawn during the flood season while the waters are high and returns downstream to seek rearing habitats when the river water levels recede. Upstream migration in this species appears to be triggered by receding waters. At the end of the flood season, the fish migrate back downstream away from flooded waters. The dates of the migrations vary depending on the river system. In the Mekong river basin, they migrate upstream in May to July and return downstream during September through December. South of the Khone Falls, upstream migration occurs in October to February, with its peak in November to December

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/16/2013 3:29 AM

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  2. edgat permalink
    08/13/2014 2:49 PM

    where can i buy fingerlings of Pangasius here in Cebu?

  3. Mm Ismail Jakey permalink
    07/15/2017 4:40 PM

    Please let me know where can i buy this fish whole? I’ll be a regular customar. This is one of my favorite fish which i like to see in my lunch or dinner 3 to 4 days a week. But im searching for this fish for a very long time in cebu upon marcado and didnt find it ever. as i dont want to buy only fillet from the super shops coz with out the skin and the head the taste doesnt come properly while im cooking it in my native style as this fish is our native fish. please kindly help me where can i find this. im searching it for 2 years.

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