Yellow buoys, blue and red containers and other colorful materials merrily float in the waters some two kilometers off the coastal town of Sto.Tomas, La Union.But they are not meant to brighten the otherwise monochromatic hues of blue-green, the color of the sea, but are meant to float and hold together the nets where high-value fish like sea bass, pompano, red snapper and grouper are cultured. These are the rope-framed cages in the 10-hectare mariculture park managed by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Ilocos Region. The cages, developed by Regional Director Nestor Domenden, have become popular that the BFAR manufactured 50 more cages for investors and fishermen groups. The BFAR manufactured 12 cages in 2010 and these are operated by a private group, four individuals and a fishermen's group from this town. The private group has hence manufactured more cages of its own.

The cages are used for "free" by the investors, but they have to hire local people for their labor needs and have to pay corresponding resource fees and taxes to the local government, Domenden said. "The main purpose of the mariculture park is increased fish production. But it also generates employment such as caretakers, guards, and ancillary labor for unclogging and mending the nets and errand services," Domenden said. BFAR staff are on hand to extend technical assistance and to ensure that the sea environment is protected from the fish caging operations. "For instance, we make sure that the operators conform to the accepted stocking density, feeding management and distance between the cages. The water quality is also regularly monitored," Henry Canlas, project field supervisor of the Rosario mariculture park, said.Fish caging of high-value species is capital-intensive, Domenden said. One has to fork out P1.2 million for each cage to make it financially viable. But the return is big, too, as one can gross from P1.8 to P2.5 million each cropping season which is from 6-7 months, depending on the operators' efficiency.

"The amount of P175 to P190 is needed to produce a kilo of high value fish, including the cost of fingerlings, feeds and labor. The fish can be sold for P290 to P350 if live. The price is a bit lower if the fish is chilled," he said. There are no commercial producers of high-value species of fingerlings yet and the operators have to buy from a farm in Sarangani province. Bangus (milkfish), the usual farmed fish, is not feasible for the rope cages because the national fish are surface dwellers and the cages are deep at seven meters, Canlas said.

The cages are suspended on the water with the aid of rope plastic containers and oval high-density styro floats attached to the frame. As the cages are located deep in the water with no frame jutting out of the water surface, they can withstand extreme weather events such as strong winds and water currents, a briefer on the project said. The rope cages are improved versions of the traditional fish cage and a take-off from the frames made of bamboo, GI pipe, and polyvinyl pipes. Each cage has several compartments and in each compartment, fish of same sizes are placed.

"They are highly flexible and has property to withstand abnormal water current and waves, unlike the traditional cages which are easily damaged whenever a typhoon hits an aquaculture area," Domenden said.There is no fear of the cages getting carried away by the current because they are
anchored on the sea bed by cement blocks.Another advantage of the rope cages is that they can last longer than the steel- framed ones. "The rope-framed cages have been there for three years and several typhoons have hit the area and none of them have been damaged yet. They are also easy to repair as they need only mending, unlike the steel or pvc-framed ones that are expensive to repair, or may even end up in a junk yard," Canlas said.



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