Fish Farming and Processing
PRODUCTION OF MILKFISH AND MOLOBICUS FRY AND FINGERLINGS
Plentex is on track to become a major producer and seller of Milkfish and Molobicus fry and fingerlings in Samar and Leyte via the up to 50% participating interest which PPI and PAC are earning in the Fish Tech Joint Venture centred at Santa Margarita on the island of Samar. The Fish Tech Joint Venture will also act as a distributor of aquafeeds in the areas in which it operates.
Molobicus – Seawater tolerant Tilapia
The regular Tilapia (refer Appendix D) commonly farmed in the Philippines, die at a salinity level of 10-15 ppt (parts per thousand) but BFAR’s National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center (NIFTDC) based in Dagupan City has in recent years developed a hybrid species they call Molobicus, which tolerates salt levels up to 35 ppt which is seawater or higher.
BFAR - NIFTDC combined the high-salinity tolerance of the Mossambicus (the Mozambique species of Tilapia) with the fast growing Niloticus species (the Nile Tilapia). Phase 1 of this program involved the cross-breeding of the two species until the desired salinity tolerance was attained. Phase 2 involved increasing the growth rate, genetically improving the new hybrid.
Molobicus is tastier and grows bigger. It has a smaller head and a bigger rounder body with taste and texture similar to a marine fish. In short, the usual complaint about a muddy taste of some fresh water farmed Tilapia does not occur with Molobicus and the meat is firmer, much like marine fish.
The new hybrid strain (Molobicus) has relatively high Omega 3 fatty acids and a very good feed conversion ratio (FCR) and has a superior taste. The Fish Tech Joint Venture will produce Molobicus fry and fingerlings for sale to fish farmers in Samar and Leyte.
Fish Tech Joint Venture Farming Plan
Plentex plans to capitalize on the existing and rapidly growing demand for Milkfish and Molobicus fry and fingerlings focusing initially on demand in Samar and Leyte Provinces and build this into a substantial business.
To fast track its entry into this market, Plentex has collaborated with Neil Pancipanci, an experienced aqua culturist who until recently traded under the name Fish Tech, principally in the Santa Margarita area of Samar.
Plentex has assisted Neil Pancipanci establish a new company called FishTech Aquaculture Corporation (FAC) which has entered into a Joint Venture with Plentex Philippines Inc. (PPI) and Plentex Aquafarms Corporation (PAC) which has been named the Fish Tech Joint Venture (FJV).
The FJV has acquired the Fish Tech business and its assets and plans to become a substantial producer of Milkfish and Molobicus fry and fingerlings which will be sold to fish farmers, who will then grow them to marketable size.
Some Milkfish fingerlings will be retained by the FJV, grown to marketable size and sold into the local market.
In the case of Molobicus fingerlings, the majority will be sold to third-party growers including PAC. As outlined later in this IM, PAC plans to grow the fingerlings which it purchases from the FJV to market size in offshore cages located in the vicinity of the PAC hatchery.
PPI and PAC have the right to earn a combined 50% participating interest in the FJV by contributing up to Php 8,370,000 (approximately A$230,000) to FJV operating and development costs over a period not exceeding 12 months. The FJV will be managed by a Management Committee comprised of 4 members, 2 of whom will be nominated by FAC, and 2 by PPI/PAC. One of the PPI/PAC members, Gil A. Adora, who is also a Director of PPI and PAC, will be Chairman of the Committee. Neil Pancipanci will be the Manager of the FJV reporting to the Management Committee.
When PPI/PAC have earned a combined 50% participating interest in the FJV, FAC and PPI/PAC must contribute equally to on-going farm costs, and if they do not do so, they will be diluted. At this date FAC/PPI and PAC have cemented their Joint Venture relationship by executing a Terms Sheet which is legally binding and which will be replaced in the near future by a detailed Joint Venture Agreement which must incorporate the basic principles of the Terms Sheet.
The FJV will also take over Neil Pancipanci’s recent negotiations with a major aquafeed manufacturer to act as a distributor and seller of that manufacturer’s feed in regions where the FJV plans to operate.
One of the major problems confronting the aquaculture industry in the Philippines are logistical barriers impacting the transport of fry and fingerlings equipment and consumables (particularly aquafeeds). The Philippines consist of over 7,000 islands with rivers, creeks and estuaries which can make road transport difficult, sometimes impossible and almost always costly.
Currently many fish farmers in Samar and Leyte face significant logistical problems in sourcing fry and fingerlings and aquafeeds, and correspondingly getting their product to market.
The FJV’s business model will involve the distribution of fry and fingerlings and aquafeeds by a specially fitted out shallow draft barge, or in areas where the barge is unable to access due to narrow waterways or other impediments, smaller workboats. The barge will be fitted with a large tank (5,000 – 10,000 litre capacity) and a pump and pipe work which will allow seawater or brackish water to be continually circulated in the tank and pump out equipment will be used to transfer fingerlings to individual farmers ponds or cages. A HIAB style crane will be fitted to the barge to assist with the transfer of bagged aquafeeds. The barge will also be used to assist in the construction of fishponds and the installation of sea cages.
The selected barge will be approximately 12 metres in length and preferably flat bottom, with a drop-down bow ramp similar to the one depicted in the photograph below and powered by outboard motors.
The barge will be capable of carrying motor vehicles such as a Toyota Hilux or a small tracked excavator for use in pond construction and maintenance.
The barge and work boats will be owned by a Plentex entity (most likely PAC) and day hired to the FJV on a “as required” basis.
Plentex considers that this style of operation will be a “game changer” for the industry.
Prior to the establishment of the FJV, Neil Pancipanci’s Fish Tech operations involved the farming of the 10 hectare pond area shown in brown/black on the BFAR Survey Map on page 28. This area is part of an island created by the intersection of the Balud and Ilo Rivers at Santa Margarita.
PAC has employed Neil Pancipanci as its Manager – Aquaculture Operations, responsible for Plentex’s aquaculture activities centered at its Villareal hatchery.
Neil will also act as Manager of FJV and he and his partner will hold a combined 89 % shareholding in FAC.
Neil Pancipanci brings to Plentex a wealth of local knowledge and excellent relationships with BFAR’s Region 8 administration, local government units and other aquaculture agencies. Importantly, Neil has developed at Fish Tech a large and growing potential customer base for fry, fingerlings and aquafeeds, and this information will be used in FJV’s operations.
The map on the next page is a BFAR Survey Map produced by BFAR in the early 1990’s, essentially for plotting the areas of Fishpond Leases that were granted to four individuals at that time. With the exception of Lot B, these Fishpond Leases have never been worked and lapsed many years ago.
Neil Pancipanci has been producing Milkfish and Molobicus fingerlings from the area (approximately 10 hectares coloured dark brown) and has also been maintaining Milkfish and Molobicus broodstock. These activities will be expanded by the FJV. The FJV is now preparing a Fishpond Lease Agreement application over the area previously farmed by Fish Tech together with Areas 2 and 3 respectively coloured light green and blue, making a total of 37 hectares. It is anticipated that this Fishpond Lease Agreement will be approved by BFAR in Q1 2024.
FJV initial development plan is presented in more detail on the aerial photograph on the next page.
At the appropriate time the FJV will also apply for Fishpond Lease Agreements or probably more likely in the first instance, a special occupational title known as an Aqua-Silviculture Stewardship Contract over Lots A, C and D totaling 70 hectares, which hopefully will eventually be converted to Fishpond Lease Agreements.
The presence of “mangroves” in these areas may result in the area which is to be the subject of the Fishpond Lease Agreement or the Aqua-silviculture Stewardship Contract being reduced in size.
In the applicable legislation applying to these aquaculture rights, the term “mangroves” is widely defined as “a community of intertidal plants including all species of trees, shrubs, vines and herbs found on coasts, swamps or border of swamps”.
The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DNR) is particularly interested in the preservation of mangroves and will be required to give its approval as part of the assessment process, prior to the grant to FAC of a Fishpond Lease Agreement of Aqua-silviculture Stewardship Contract.
The FJV is targeting to produce 20 million Milkfish fry and 40 million Milkfish fingerlings in 2026. The current price of Milkfish fry is 50 centavos (ie half a peso) and fingerlings Php 8.
In the case of Molobicus it is considered that the FJV could produce 24 million fry and 35 million fingerlings in 2026. However the number that will be actually produced will depend on what number PAC can handle at its Guintarcan Island facility, and demand from third-party fish farmers. The current price for Molobicus fingerlings is Php 5.
PRI’s fish hatchery facility at Guintarcan Island will be the operational base for the Plentex seaweed and fish farming activities.
The facility was commissioned in 2000 as a multi-species (fish/crustacean) hatchery. It was developed as part of the Western Samar Agricultural Resources Development Programme (WESAMAR) which was a special programme of the Philippines Department of Agriculture funded by the European Union.
The hatchery was planned to be a critical foundation component of a proposed large scale mariculture development in the Maqueda Bay area of Western Samar.
The hatchery is located on a 1 hectare lot on the tip of the southern most peninsula of Guintarcan Island within the municipality of Villareal. The site has access to abundant fresh water and is connected to the power grid.
The facility has not been operational for many years. PAC intends to refurbish and modify and use it as a nursery for the growing of Molobicus (seawater tolerant Tilapia) and Barramundi prior to their transfer to offshore sea cages, and as the base for its Asparagopsis and Halymenia durvillei (seaweed) pilot farming programmes and subsequent commercial scale farming.
This facility offers:
- Capability to support the farming of substantial annual tonnages of Barramundi and Molobicus.
- On site accommodation for manager, staff and students.
- Capacity to expand operations.
- Adjacent shallow waters for nursery sea cages within 500m from the shoreline..
- Supportive local government and regional fishing authorities.
The layout, design and specification of the hatchery was undertaken by engineers from SEAFDEC (Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center) and WESAMAR. In broad terms the facility consists of a number of concrete tanks connected by pipes through which clean, filtered seawater is pumped, together with a number of buildings necessary to support hatchery operations.
Plentex plans to engage appropriately qualified consultants to advise it in relation to upgrading the hatchery and moving it to operational status for seaweed farming and for Barramundi and Molobicus farming operations.
In particular, SARDI, the Philippine Marine Science Institute (MSI) and BFAR will provide assistance with Asparagopsis and Halymenia durvillei culture and farming methodology. Plans are also in place for Melbourne, Australia based MainStream Aquaculture to assist with setting up tankage and hatchery procedures for the growing of Barramundi.
Offshore Fish Cage Locations
- The Guintarcan Island hatchery site provides access to high quality nursery and grow out locations as described below in isolated unpolluted waters
- Water up to 20m depth, visibility > 10 meters
- Inter-island waters offer protection from adverse weather
- Water temperature averages 28oC - 30 oC
- Grow-out locations:
- around Bascal Island and Agatay Island - water depth up to 14m
- Daram Channel water depth 9 - 15 meters
- adjacent to Parasan Island water depth 12 - 20 meters
- all within 40 km of the hatchery offers excellent biosecurity with local fisherfolk available as crew and contract growers
- strong support from local government units.
FARMING OF BARRAMUNDI AND MOLOBICUS
Barramundi farming plan
Barramundi or Sea Bass as it is known in Asia, is now commercially farmed in many countries and is highly regarded as a white table fish. Plentex will source Barramundi (fry) from MainStream Aquaculture based at Wyndham, Victoria. MainStream is the largest producer of Barramundi fry in the world exporting to over 20 countries and is the only hatchery able to produce fry throughout the year, producing a batch of fish every month.
This is achieved through controlled manipulation of environmental conditions including temperature, salinity, day length and current (waterflow). This provides MainStream customers with security nature cannot provide.
MainStream maintains the highest available level of Australian sustainability certification and is one of the few Barramundi hatcheries in the world that is Best Aquaculture Practice accredited.
MainStream’s advanced selective breeding programs developed over 15 years and continuous improvement have produced domesticated strains of Barramundi providing:
- rapid growth (ie to market size of 750g in 8 months) with improved feed conversion efficiency
- reduced size variation and reduced aggressive behaviour
- increased disease resistance
- high levels of nutritionally beneficial Omega-3
- increased fillet yield through rounder shape
- lighter coloured flesh with no pigmentation
MainStream guarantee the survival of their fry from dispatch to their ultimate destination. Plentex will purchase Barramundi fry in the size range 24-30 mm (weight range 0.2-0.4g (grade bar range 2.5-3.0)). Before being forwarded to Plentex’s Guintarcan Island hatchery/nursery, the fry will be acclimatised to the exact water parameters prevailing at the Plentex nursery.
The one month old Barramundi fry sourced from MainStream Aquaculture will be air freighted from Melbourne direct to Manila and then road transported to Villareal from where they will be transported by boat to Plentex’s Guintarcan Island hatchery. The fry will be reared in the hatchery’s onshore concrete tanks and regularly graded for approximately 2 months until 100g in size at which stage they will be called fingerlings.
The fingerlings will be transferred in transport tanks to off-shore nursery cages which will be installed a short distance from the nursery shoreline and linked to the shore by a walkway. The nursery cages will be floating double collar square caged units of overall dimensions of 12x12m, divided into four separate but adjoining cages of 6x6m length/width and 6m in depth.
After approximately a further month the fish will be removed from the nursery cages and transferred to circular 20m diameter floating grow-out cages with 8m deep walls where they will be fed for a further 2 months and regularly graded. Barramundi can be stocked at up to 60kg/m3, however Plentex’s farming system will initially use lower stocking densities in the grow-out cages of 40kg/m3.
Fingerlings will be fed a semi-floating pellet 5-6 times a day when they are small. This will decrease to 1-2 times a day as they grow. Pellet size will be increased as the fish size increases. Feed conversion ratios (total weight of fish produced per total dry weight of feed consumed) of 1.2:1 to 1.5:1 can be expected.
The fish will be harvested weekly delivering a continuous supply and quality product to the market. Target harvest size will initially be in the range 400-600g (plate size) which is considered ideal size for the Philippine domestic market. Fish will be harvested using a small scale purse seine net and dip netted onto a table where they will be graded. Fish will be directed three ways:
- smaller fish will be returned to another cage
- larger fish (shooters) - biggest and fastest growing fish will be directed to another cage for future projects such as testing the market for fillets and for use as broodstock
- harvest size fish will be slaughtered humanely by being placed into ice slurry. Then they will be taken ashore at Villareal and transported by road transport to the fish processing plant which Plentex currently intends to establish at Villareal.
In the first year of operations the plate size Barramundi will be packed in ice in polystyrene boxes and then transported in a refrigerated van to Tacloban International Airport for onward transport. Harvesting and onshore packaging will be coordinated with airline schedules from Tacloban to Manila, Cebu and other destinations within the Philippines.
In the second year of operation 50% of the harvested fish will be held in the cages for a further month and grown out to size range of 650-750g for the export market which will initially be Australia. The fish that are to be exported to Australia will have to be scaled, gilled and gutted as Australian regulations stipulate that imported Barramundi must be in a consumer ready form. Individual vacuum packaging is an option which will be explored by Plentex.
The processing for export fish will be undertaken at Plentex’s fish processing plant and instead of ice, ice blankets will be used to ensure that the fish arrive in excellent condition at their ultimate destination.
Plentex’s initial production target is 1,500 tonnes per annum which is to be realised in 3 years from the date Barramundi fry is first delivered to the Plentex hatchery. To achieve this target Plentex will develop its farm in incremental annual production modules of 500 tonnes which will necessitate the purchase of one to two additional 20m diameter cages every 6 months, and the increase of its fleet of barges and workboats and an expansion of its onshore processing facility at Villareal.
Complementing its potential 50% interest in the FJV, Plentex plans to become a major producer of marketable size Molobicus, farming them in fish cages in off-shore areas around the Plentex hatchery.
This farming will utilise Molobicus fingerlings produced by the FJV and will use cage culture methods similar to those Plentex intends to use to produce Barramundi. There will be considerable sharing of equipment such as barges, work boats and fish cages and labour, and this will produce efficiencies otherwise not available if either Molobicus or Barramundi were farmed as single species. PAC will be responsible for the marketing of all Molobicus whether produced by FJV or PAC itself, or purchased from third party growers. PAC plans to establish a brandname under which it will market and sell Molobicus.
Plentex aims to develop in the market place recognition of the superior taste of Molobicus produced in marine environments and the health benefits of consuming Molobicus with its relatively high Omega 3 fatty acid content, favourable Omega 3/6 ratio and is confident that it will be able to develop a strong demand for its branded Molobicus.
Plentex has had some experience in farming fresh water Tilapia. This dates back to 2016 when PRI purchased Suhi Lot 2 (4.5 ha) and built an approximately 1.2 ha dam on the block fed by spring and rain water (refer Appendix B pages 81 and 84 for photographs).
Tilapia farming was commenced shortly after the dam filled, and once established, Plentex sold Tilapia into the local Tacloban fish market. Active farming was discontinued during the Covid 19 shut-down period and has not been recommenced having regard to the pending sale of Suhi Lot 2. The skill and experience gained during this period will be of assistance with the company’s Molobicus farming plan.
Plentex will work closely with the FJV, BFAR, SEAFDEC, other agencies and commercial hatchery operations, both in the Philippines and internationally, to keep abreast of developments in the farming of Molobicus.
Plentex will feed both Molobicus and Barramundi with commercially available extruded pellets through their respective grow-out cycles to marketable size. Manufactured feeds can represent over 50% of the production costs of intensive Molobicus farming. Most current feeds are high in Omega 6 fatty acids and low in Omega 3 fatty acids, which lead to an undesirable food profile for the fish. Better feeds and feeding strategies can save money and lead to better quality fish. Molobicus will grow rapidly on formulated feeds with lower protein levels and tolerate higher carbohydrate levels than many carnivorous farmed species. They can also accept feeds with a higher percentage of plant proteins.
Plentex is hopeful that ProEn-K which it is developing in conjunction with the University of the Philippines Visayas and Tarlac Agricultural University (see Section 8) can be used to give it a competitive advantage. Plentex will also introduce systems for measuring and monitoring feed consumption, commencing initially with the use of feeding trays and ultimately with modern electronic commercial systems. In the grow out phase of producing marketable fish the target size is dictated by the demands of the local and international markets and the price obtained per kg is usually a direct function of the individual size of the fish.
Plentex’s initial production target is 1,000 tonnes per annum which is to be realised in 3 years from the date Molobicus fingerlings are available from the FJV. As with Barramundi, Plentex will develop its Molobicus farming in incremental annual production modules starting with Year 1, 300 tonnes, increasing to 650 tonnes in Year 2 then 1,000 tonnes in Year 3. This program will require Plentex to increase the number of off-shore cages it has devoted to farming Molobicus and the supporting work boats and barges which will be shared with Plentex’s Barramundi farming operations.
Barramundi – Marketing Strategy
Philippines – Domestic Market
Plentex’s marketing strategy will initially be focused on supplying chilled “plate size” (400-700 grams) whole fish into the top end of the Philippines market servicing top hotel chains such as the Shangri La group, leading restaurants, tourist resort operators and prestige supermarkets.
The advantage of selling locally rather than exporting will be lower transport costs, reduced compliance issues and reduced processing and packaging requirements.
However, Plentex’s real Barramundi farming potential lies in accessing export markets and the development of niche and value added Barramundi products.
South East Asian markets
- Significant potential exists to sell “plate size” Barramundi into Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland China, Guam and Japan. There is also a market for chilled and frozen fillets and live fish.
- Plentex is confident that with correct planning it is possible to have Barramundi processed at its Villareal plant, processed for export and transported as air cargo to Australia and despatched to fresh markets in Sydney and Melbourne within 48 hours from the time of harvest.
- Australian consumers consider Barramundi to be the No. 1 white fish for taste, texture and quality.
- The Australian market was until recently undersupplied with sea water grown Barramundi. However, sea water grown Barramundi are now being farmed in Northern Australia (Cone Bay) and also imported from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and several other countries which has resulted in robust competition and the softening of prices except for Cone Bay Barramundi which are highly regarded and command premium pricing.
- Effort will nevertheless still need to be made to shift current Australian customer perception that imported products are inferior and eliminating the associated price discount.
- Australian market analysis suggests benchmark pricing to be:
- “Plate size” Barramundi (average 700gm)
Price range farm gate AUD 16.50-19.00 kg (processed weight – ie scaled, gilled and gutted) with whole fish to final product yield/recovery of 88% relative to Plentex estimated production metrics of grow out time of 6-9 months at an average FCR 1:2:1
- Fillets – chilled or frozen
Price ranges farm gate – chilled AUD 9.90-11kg or frozen AUD 8.00-10kg
relative to Plentex estimated production metrics of grow out time 18-24 months, harvest weight of 4kg with yield/recovery – 50% skin on at an average FCR 1:5:1.
The opportunity exists for Plentex to grow larger fish (banquet size) and to sell as whole fish either chilled or as live fish which are sought after in certain South Asian markets.
Plentex will also investigate “value adding” options such as processing plate size Barramundi into “barra pockets” producing a range of smoked fillets or portions and developing “meal ready” products. “Barra pockets” are produced by scaling the fish, removing the gills, guts and frame but not slicing through the top of the backbone. The pocket can be filled with French fries and/or an attractive salad mix.
Molobicus - Marketing Strategy
In Asia Tilapia are marketed as fresh, frozen and live. Live Tilapia generally fetches higher prices. Red Tilapia is preferred and commands a better price than grey Tilapia. There is a premium price for fresh Tilapia fillet. The high quality Tilapia fillet has made a niche in the raw fish market.
Globally, the preferred market size for Tilapia varies between 200 to 800 grams. Local markets often have outlets for a wider range of sizes while export markets require the production of larger fish because they are more likely to be sold as individual fillets of 100 to 140g (corresponding to a fish of 600-800g).
The world market is for frozen or chilled whole fish (0.5 to 1 kg) and fillets (30-35% recovery from 0.7 to 1 kg fresh fish). Export size Tilapia average at least 700 grams size requiring 6 months of culture.
Izumidai or brackish water Tilapia fillet is now used for sushi and sashimi in Japan and elsewhere. In international trade, the price of sashimi grade Tilapia is higher at US$10-11 kg. There is also an opportunity to produce “ready-to-eat” Tilapia, crumbed, marinated and packaged meals with vegetables etc.
Plentex’s marketing strategy will be to focus on the production of the Molobicus strain, and the sale of these fish as Sea Tilapia. Fish will be supplied fresh and frozen as whole fish, fillets and loins cut from the thickest part of the fillet. Attention will also be directed to the production of “value-added” Sea Tilapia such as smoked, marinated and pre prepared Sea Tilapia meals.
Plentex expects that it will encounter some resistance from purchasers of Tilapia in local markets in the Philippines to pay the higher price which Plentex expects to receive for Sea Tilapia. Accordingly Plentex’s sales programs will be directed to top end customers such as restaurants and hotels in major cities of the Philippines and to high end tourist destinations where the flavour and health benefits of Sea Tilapia will be better understood.
There is an opportunity for Plentex to export Molobicus to Australia and other countries and Plentex will seek aquaculture product quality certification such as ASC/Global Gap to increase its competitiveness.
Whole Tilapia farmed in Taiwan are currently being imported into Australia and sold in food markets and fish shops where there are substantial South East Asian populations. It is illegal to farm or indeed even possess live Tilapia in Australia due to the fear of them overrunning indigenous fish species.