Research breakthrough seen to curb shortage of ‘poor man’s fish’

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By Milthon Lujan

by RD Dianala, SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department 
A scientific breakthrough at a research center in the Philippines might finally be the long-term solution to the perennial shortage of round scad (Decapterus spp.), known as the “poor man’s fish” in the country.


In a world’s first, researchers successfully spawned the round scad Decapterus macrosoma in captivity at SEAFDEC/AQD in Tigbauan, Iloilo, marking a critical milestone towards farming the fish, locally known as galunggong.

Round scad is considered a staple fish in the Philippines with over 202,000 metric tons harvested by commercial and municipal fisheries in 2020 according to government statistics. However, the haul could not keep up with market demand leading to increasing prices, now reaching $5 to $6 a kilo, and controversial moves to import the fish amid closed fishing seasons.

“Our breeders have been spawning continuously since December last year until this February, and we now have thousands of galunggong in different larval to early juvenile stages at our hatchery which we hope to further grow to market sizes to prove that we can farm galunggong,” revealed SEAFDEC/AQD chief Dan Baliao in an interview last Feb. 28, 2022.

Researcher Ma. Irene Cabanilla-Legaspi said they started collecting wild breeders off southern Iloilo and Antique in 2020 as part of a Government of Japan-funded project at SEAFDEC/AQD, the same research center responsible for groundbreaking studies on breeding milkfish in the 70s and 80s.


After collecting round scad breeders onboard commercial fishing vessels and through fish traps, Cabanilla-Legaspi’s team transported them to SEAFDEC/AQD’s headquarters in Tigbauan and stocked them in fish tanks to prepare them for spawning.

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It was the breeders they caught in August and October 2021 that began laying eggs in December 2021, and continued to produce good eggs through February 2022. Though still in an early experimental stage, they already have fingerlings in the hatchery that are more than 50 days old.

‘Very fast’ growth

“We observed that the fish were growing very fast. When they reach 20 days old, they have a very fast growth and we can obtain 2.5-centimeter round scad in 25 days,” Cabanilla-Legaspi said.

Although trials in the hatchery are still few, SEAFDEC/AQD scientist Dr. Leobert de la Peña noted that the round scad fry also have “very high survival” compared to other marine fish being grown at SEAFDEC/AQD, reaching as much as 20% survival 25 days after they hatch.


Meanwhile, the SEAFDEC/AQD team will continue to collect broodstock from the wild for more experimental runs that will also cover studying the fish’s larval development, reproductive development, feeding habits, and the formulation of hatchery, nursery, and grow-out procedures.

“We hope our attempts to grow galunggong will proceed quickly. We are excited to roll out the technology and promote the culture of galunggong so prices may become more affordable as farms can surely augment the catch from the wild,” Baliao added.

SEAFDEC/AQD deputy chief Dr. Sayaka Ito also noted that round scad is a potential export product for the Philippines as it is now being imported by Japan as otsumami, a kind of snack or finger food.

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The research on round scad is under an umbrella program at SEAFDEC/AQD that aims to develop aquaculture technologies on new aquatic species that also includes kawakawa (mackerel tuna) and flathead lobster. The main goal of the research program is to close the life cycle of these species in captivity and to develop production techniques for hatchery, nursery, and grow-out. 

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