Breeders for milkfish hatcheries are wild caught from local waters or sourced from fingerlings produced in a hatchery. By selecting fast growing juveniles as breeders, hatcheries are able to develop faster growing milkfish strains compared to their wild sourced counterparts.
Fry and fingerlings
Milkfish farmers used to be dependent on wild fry to stock their ponds and large volumes of fry were caught in coastal waters. But with dwindling stocks of wild milkfish, the Bureau of Fishery and Aquaculture Resources is now discouraging this practice. Nowadays, the majority of the fry is produced by hatcheries or is imported.
Surprisingly, the hatchery sector for milkfish in the Philippines is not very strongly developed and there is only one large commercial hatchery (Alsons Corporation). According to their owner production figures this company produces around 1.2 billion fry on an annual basis. Additionally they also import milkfish fry from Indonesia and Taiwan which they resell. It is unclear how much the company actually produces in their own hatchery and how much of their produce is imported.
Besides Alsons Corporation, there are a number of small hatcheries that produce milkfish fry for local farmers but often their production is not constant due to a variety of reasons ranging from a lack of rigid hatchery protocols and disease problems to a lack of quality supplies (hatchery feeds, live feeds and a stable source of electricity). There are also a number of smaller players on the market that import milkfish fry from Taiwan and Indonesia. Indonesia is considering to ban the export of milkfish fry which could create big opportunities for hatcheries in the Philippines.
Most aquaculture operators that produce milkfish for the domestic market employ extensive production systems with low stocking densities and limited external inputs like feeds. Instead of feeding their fish, they fertilize their ponds to create algae blooms. They also grow macro algae in the canals next to their fish. Feed ingredients like rice meals are regularly used as feed by these farmers but only in time of shortages of natural feeds and during the beginning of the production stage. Most aquaculture operators that produce milkfish for the export market use pellet feeds in combination with some algae from the pond. Some famers, especially those that produce for the export market, use pellet feeds from feed mills. These companies are mostly local Filipino companies with in some cases a minority share of foreign investment, although several large international feed companies are present in the Philippines and there is a continuous interests of others to enter this market. There are around a dozen feed millers that produce aquaculture feeds, although the pellets are not species specific but they can be used for an assorted number of species including carp, tilapia and milkfish. Examples of commercial aquafeed producers in the Philippines are, among others, New Hope Bulacan Agriculture Inc., HOC PO Feeds Corporation and Cargill Phils., Inc.
Chemicals and veterinary drugs
Besides chemical fertilizers to stimulate algae growth in the pond, very few chemicals or veterinary drugs are used in milkfish operations. Milkfish are known as very hardy fish that are not very susceptible to diseases thereby reducing the need for the use of chemicals and veterinary drugs.