SAN ESTEBAN, Ilocos Sur – The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources welcomed the establishment of cages where lobsters would be cultured in this northern Luzon town. BFAR I Regional Director Nestor Domenden said the lobster culture, the first aquaculture venture in Ilocos Sur, would boost food production and help the local fisherfok who would be the source of juvenile lobsters. The province is known for bagnet and longganisa, and hopes to add lobsters and other high-value fish species to its cuisine to offer to tourists and visitors.

"Sawa na sa bagnet at longganisa," Governor Ryan Singson said in jest, referring to the deep-friend chunks of pork meat and beef or pork sausages that the northern Luzon province is known for. Lobsters are hardly caught in the waters off this town, but the local government hopes to put the town in the world's lobsters map through production of the crustaceans in cages, starting with one put up by a private company. The cage was placed some 500 meters away from the beach in a cove off Villa Quirino village of this town. The cove, called Patalan, has less than a kilometer of fine white sand beach and is protected by green valleys. A wharf used by fishing boats to bring in their catch, runs across the cove.

Also, the provincial government hopes that the lobster culture will spawn production of other high-value species like lapu-lapu, that could be sold in foreign and local markets, and for production to be enough to enable establishments of seafood restaurants in the province.Ilocos Sur has 18 coastal towns facing the West Philippine Sea, but there's not even one seafood restaurant in the province, Singson said during the launching of the lobster culture project on Monday. "Hopefully the venture would be successful for the community can benefit as well," Singson said of the first lobster aquaculture project in the province.Fisherfolk said while they sometimes caught lobsters, these are very small and hardly command good price in the local market, or less than P200 per kilo. "If they sell the seafood in the market, they get low price and the consumers won't be contented because what they are buying are small," Paul Tiongson of Northwest Aquatics which invested in the lobster culture, said. The company would buy juvenile lobsters ( 10-30 grams each) from the fisherfolk at P60-P80 each, depending on the size.

He said lobster culture won't hurt the marine environment because the crustaceans are not given commercial feed, but natural food like trash fish, mussels and oysters. Natural food won't damage the corals, unlike commercial feeds that could cause coral bleaching or dying of corals, Tiongson said. Natural food won't damage the corals, unlike commercial feeds that could cause coral bleaching or dying of corals, Tiongson said. The local government of San Esteban strictly implements anti-illegal fishing in its municipal waters especially the use of dynamites. Tiongson said the town's marine environment would even benefit from the lobster culture because since fishermen have to catch live lobster to sell to the company, they won't use highly destructive dynamites.

He said the company planned to expand into production of other high-value species in the future, but the immediate plan is to go into culture of mussels and oysters in Caoayan town to serve as food for the lobsters. At present, the company cultures two kinds of lobster – the spiny and the slipper. The initial stock was brought from farms in Mindanao. Tiongson said it takes 6-10 months for the lobster to reach the size that high-end restaurants want, which is from 800 grams to more than a kilo each. A kilo of lobster fetches P1,200 and above.



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