Abalone and Seaweed Farming Sustain Better Future for Filipino Fishermen

Feature | 30 May 2014

A community of fishermen in the Philippine island of Palawan can now afford to send their children to school thanks to an ADB-supported abalone and seaweed farming initiative that also helps conserve the environment.

Fishing is a tough way to make a living. The catch, at times abundant, is notoriously unpredictable while danger is always lurking around the corner for the men who spend long hours on flimsy boats often at the mercy of rough seas. Climate change and the degradation of coastal environments where their families live is also adding to the plight of fishermen who struggle to eke out a living in many communities across Asia and the Pacific.

As part of the Coral Triangle initiative, an ADB project is now helping coastal communities in Southeast Asia develop alternative livelihood, ensure food security and adapt to climate change. In the Philippine island of Palawan, for example, enterprising fishermen in the coastal municipality of Taytay are now able to send their kids to the university with money earned from seaweed and abalone farming.

Seaweed culture on a roll

A group of fishermen from the villages of Pamantolon and Canique that were chosen to take part in seaweed farming training in October 2013 are now seeing the benefits.

Seven months after the project was launched, the buying price for dried seaweeds has gone up by 40% to about 70 Philippine pesos per kilogram ($1.58) from 50 pesos ($1.13) in 2013, a record high for Taytay farmers. In November, almost 128 kg of dried seaweeds were harvested and sold for 8,960 pesos ($206) in Pamantolon while 97 kg were sold for 6,700 pesos ($151) in Canique.

The beneficiaries plan to use their profits to expand operations and involve more members in seaweed farming. They will also retain part of the harvest for planting.

Gold mine of the seas

The project is also supporting pilot abalone farming in Taytay to help restock depleted wild species in nearby reefs. The tropical abalone (Haliotis asinina) is a highly prized ingredient in Chinese cuisine and commands high prices in markets.

"Abalone farming is important because it brings additional income for us," said Tomas Ilocat, chairman of the Barangay Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council in Pamantolon. "At the same time, we help conserve abalone in the wild."

Because of its commercial importance to both local and international markets, the abalone has earned the title "black gold" or "gold mine" of the seas. The species in Taytay, locally known as "sobra-sobra," is one of the fastest-growing farmed species in the world.

In August 2013, members of the Pamantolon Fisherfolk Association were trained on abalone cage culture with support from the Municipal Agricultural Office, Western Philippines University (WPU), and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) in Taytay. Fishermen learned how to build and maintain net cages, feed, and monitor the abalone stock.

Although they have to wait 8 to 10 months for the abalone to grow to marketable size, fishermen spend little on operation and maintenance, which makes it profitable. They feed the abalones with seaweed that is grown in the area.

"Abalone farming is important because it brings additional income for us."

- Tomas Ilocat, chairman of the Barangay Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council in Pamantolon

A kilo of abalone costs 300 pesos/kg ($7/kg) in Taytay and 350 pesos/kg ($8) in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. But when it is sold to restaurants in Metro Manila, a serving can cost as much as 3,000 pesos/kg ($68).

"The survival rate is about 95% with an average monthly mortality of 5%," said fisheries and coastal resource management specialist Benjamin Gonzales, who is also a WPU professor.

"There are about 620 abalones of three different size classes stocked on the cage culture site in Barangay Pamantolon," said Gonzales. "Forty of the species are adult breeders, which enhance or 'reseed' depleted reefs with abalone larvae."

About ADB's Coral Triangle Initiative-Southeast Asia

Through the Coral Triangle Initiative-Southeast Asia project, ADB is supporting communities in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion - including Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia - in protecting their coastal and marine ecosystems and developing increased resilience to natural and human-induced hazards.

The abalone cage culture initiative is one of the five priority strategies in Taytay's climate change adaptation plan. Others are pilot-testing of salt-tolerant rice varieties, mangrove reforestation, training on early warning and disaster response and preparedness, and health management and sanitation monitoring. The project, which will run from 2012 to 2016, is designed to enable the governments of the three countries to implement priority activities across a range of areas. The project in Taytay builds on the work of WWF-Philippines, which facilitated climate change adaptation planning in the municipality with funding from the Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).