Milkfish in The Philippines

Milkfish is the most widely cultured and consumed fish in the Philippines. Thousands of aquaculture operators are engaged in this industry ranging from small-scale family enterprises to large corporations. The smaller producers are responsible for the majority of the country’s production but they only produce milkfish for the domestic market since their traceability and quality standards are not sufficient. The export of milkfish from the Philippines is dominated by a handful of large Filipino owned companies that farm, process and export their produce themselves. By doing this, these companies are able to keep production costs minimal in this low margin seafood commodity. Additionally, by controlling

the supply chain, they are able to ensure traceability and quality standards needed to export to demanding markets like the European Union. Milkfish products are mostly exported to markets with a large population of overseas workers and migrants from southeast Asian nations. Popular product lines in these markets include frozen fillets and frozen whole milkfish. Milkfish are cultured in a wide range of environments using a variety of culture methods. Seed stock are sometimes wild captured but in most cases originate from hatcheries. In freshwater and brackish water environments milkfish are cultured in fishponds and pens while in marine environments milkfish are cultured in floating cages and occasionally in pens. The number of suitable locations for fishponds and fish pens is limited, making it hard for this subsector to further expand its production capacity. Additionally, the national government has banned the development of new fish ponds and the new administration has recently (June 2016) requested owners of fish pens around Manila (Laguna Bay) to dismantle their pens due to environmental and food safety concerns. On the other hand, the culture of milkfish in floating cages at sea is booming since plenty of suitable locations are available. Also, milkfish cultured in a marine environment taste better and fetch higher prices. Although the annual total production volume and export of milkfish has remained stable in the past few years, the volume of farmed high quality milkfish has been increasing significantly. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years as both local and overseas consumers are becoming more demanding.


Sourcing news

Production and export statistics

Species wise production

Source: FAO (2018) and BFAR

Milkfish production has increased steady the last years with annually production numbers around 400 thousand MT. These figures are in line with local figures from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). In the past, the Philippines was the world’s top producer of milkfish but due to production constraints Indonesia has now taken the top

spot. These production figures only show a 3% increase in production over the past 5 years as the available locations suited for brackish water pen systems are limited. For these reasons, there is a major shift taking place in production type from brackish water pens to marine fish cages. Also, since the national government has recently started closing down a large number of fish pens in the vicinity of Manila, production figures are expected to show little growth in the near future.

Furthermore, around 50% of the fry used in farming operations is imported from Indonesia and this nation is considering an export ban of milkfish fry in order to supports its own farming industry. If this would happen a sharp decline in milkfish production is expected.

Production per region

Source: Annual reports van BFAR 2012 - 2016

The Philippines uses a system of numbered regions as shown in the figure above. Each of these regions is made up of a several provinces. Most national government agencies, like the BFAR, operate a main office and collect statistics per region.

Since most of the milkfish is produced for local consumption and sold directly at local markets, the production volumes are rather equally spread throughout the different regions in the Philippines. The Western and Central Visayas (Region VI and VII) and Northern Mindanao (Region X) are the top producers because these regions offer large areas of suitable brackish water habitat. A few landlocked regions, the capital region, and a few small island regions produce little to no milkfish.


Source: Selected Statistics on Agriculture 2017, Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS)

As milkfish products do not have a specific HS code BAS figures are used, instead of Trademap figures. However, BAS most recent figures are from 2016 and only show the total export numbers, not country wise.

Just a small percentage from the production is exported, and

the volume has been stable the recent years counting between 3-4,000 MT. According to BAS figures from 2010, which also show country vise export numbers, the US (3411 MT) is by far the largest export market, followed by Canada (634 MT). Other countries of interest are the UK, Korea, Guam, Hong Kong and Hawaii which imported around 40-60 MT each.

In the United States milkfish consumers are Filipinos that have been living in the country for several generations while in the markets of Canada, Hong Kong, Korea and Guam the demand is driven by so-called Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s). Smaller volumes are exported to serve overseas workers from Indonesian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin who are mainly based in the United Kingdom.

Export products in 2010 (tonnes)

Source: Milkfish Situation Report, 2006-2010, Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS)

As milkfish products do not have a specific HS code BAS figures are used, instead of Trademap figures. However, BAS most recent figures on product type are from 2010.

As milkfish are priced relatively low, the majority of the produce is only exported frozen. A variety of product lines

are available including whole round, whole gutted and headed, and fillets. Fillets are always deboned and in many cases marinated. It is important to note that milkfish is a species of fish which is very rich in bones and as such deboning is a necessary but a time intensive procedure. A smaller percentage of produce is exported fresh, smoked or dried. All product categories are expected to continue to show significant growth in the coming years with the exception of fresh and salted products for which there is little market.

Supply Chain

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Risk assessment

Potential environmental risks

  • The use of large pens often leads to polluted coastal waters
  • Pond farms without filter systems can also cause pollution of coastal waters

Potential social risks

  • Workers’ rights in factories

Potential quality and supply chain risks

  • Milkfish products from pens should be avoided as these are often contaminated with pathogens and chemical residues.
  • Given the high integrity of export oriented milkfish supply chains in The Philippines, there are no real supply chain risks, as long as buyers purchase products with accordant traceability.

Species in The Philippines

Click on the species and find out more about the species in The Philippines