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R&D efforts geared towards preserving abalone in Palawan

abalone productionAlong the coasts of Palawan is a rare shellfish called abalone. Locals would more often recognize it as sobra-sobra (Ilonggo) which, in English, translates as “too much.” As abalone reaches maturity, one would notice the sea creature’s flesh overlapping its shell covering. Abalone is rich in Omega 3, iodine, and phosphorous which help in reducing the risk of getting cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.

Despite being named sobra-sobra, abalone is considered a rarity in the agri-fishery industry. The sea creatures don’t just grow under any coastal circumstances.Saltwater salinity must be at a 32-35parts per thousand with the sites as the shellfish thrive nowhere near freshwater sources. Sites also need to have clear and flowing water at all times.

Harvesting wild abalone is an arduous task. Fishermen have to dive down to the bottom of intertidal flats to 10 meters or more and individually handpick those that are fully-grown and mature and take these to the surface. Often, they have to be pried free from underwater rocks. The fisherfolk then offload this onshore. Harvesting is repeated with fresh batches of the shellfish gathered anew until enough abalone is gathered. Because of their nutritional value and the laborious process of harvesting abalone, it is only natural that abalone commands premium price with a kilogram of abalone sold at around PhP300-850 (USD6-17) depending on whether it is live, frozen, or canned.

In South Africa, exporting abalone is mostly done through the black market where tons and tons of the hunted shellfish are transported to countries that generate the highest demand for the product way beyond the country’s appointed quota. The amount of abalone leaving South Africa exceeds the limit mandated by the government with an estimated 40,000 tons taken from the wild since 2001. According to an investigative study conducted by National Geographic, smuggling abalone out of the country is easy as it is facilitated by organized criminal groups that coerce poor working class divers.

The risk then that concerns the abalone industry is the depletionof the wild species freely roaming the ocean. While abalone isn’t as lucrative in the Philippines as much as it is in South Africa, it is still being hunted down too often by fisherfolk in Palawan. Researchers from the Western Philippines University(WPU) have discovered that coral reefs in some of Palawan’s shoreline are also being destroyed due to widespread unregulated collection of sobra-sobra.

 

R&D efforts to preserve the abalone

In order to preserve the populations of wild abalone along the shores of Palawan, the WPU-College of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences in partnership with the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), embarked on the project, “Utilization of Indigenous Materials for the Mass Production and Community Farming System of Abalone (Haliotis asinina) in Palawan.” The project is aimed at introducing an alternative agri-fishery system that would provide enough harvestable abalone for a fisherfolk family’s daily provisions as well as lessen the collection of the threatened wild abalone.

Under the leadership of abalone biology and culture expert, Dr. Lota Alcantara-Creencia, WPU developed a hatchery, nursery, and grow-out culture system of abalone in the university’s Binduyan Marine Research Station which is an hour’s drive north of Puerto Princesa City.

The research initiated toput up mechanisms for fisherfolk families in Taytay, Palawan to receive abalone juveniles three months after they are fertilized in the Binduyan station’s abalone culture facilities. This is in coordination with Malampaya Foundation, Inc. with operation in northern Palawan. From the batch given to them by the researchers,the beneficiaries were able to jumpstart their own stock of cultured abalone with the use of their grow-out cages set up along the coast.

Aside from supplying the first batch of abalone culture, fisherfolk families were also taught to utilize indigenous raw materials in mass-producing the grow-out cages used to culture abalone. The grow-out cages are mostly made up of bamboo which, according to the results of WPU’s study, is just as efficient as the ones made of PVC. Aside from being cheaper, utilizing indigenous materials also helps the farming communities as the fisherfolk have to outsource their materials from locals who sell bamboo.

The species of abalone that are being cultured in Palawan is Haliotis asinina. Compared to other species, H. asinina exhibits the largest shell length among Philippine abalones. It also has the fastest growth rate among cultured abalones in the world. H. asinina from Palawan is usually exported to countries that have high demand for the shellfish such as Hong Kong and South Korea. Aside from Palawan, abalone is now also being cultured in the provinces of Quezon, Masbate, Marinduque, Antique, Guimaras, Negros Provinces, Samar, Bohol, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Zamboanga, and Sulu.

Apart from BAR, WPU is also collaborating with Commission on Higher Education, Department of Science and Technology, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the United States Agency for International Development towards preserving Palawan’s sobra-sobra and helping the local abalone industry. ### (Ephraim John J. Gestupa)

 

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Lota Alcantara-Creencia
Project Leader
Western Philippines University
Puerto Princesa City, Palawan
Tel. No.: 0928-280-9419
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.