Save Ludong, the Most Delicious and Expensive Fish in RP
A delicious and very expensive fish is found in the Philippines. It’s the lobed river mullet(Cestraeus plicatilis) which is locally known as banak or ludong. It’s also called the Presidents’ Fish because of its rarity and high price, enjoyed only by very special people such as the president.
Ludong is a freshwater mullet that is endemic to Cagayan River and tributaries extending through the watersheds of Cagayan Valley and the Santa-Abra River Systems of Ilocos Sur and Abra. According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), this fish is habituating in the deep pools of Addalem River in Aglipay, Quirino, and rapids of Didimpit in Lacab, Jones, Isabela.
Ludong is herbivorous, eating only the filamentous algae that live on rocks and boulders in and near river rapids.
This elusive fish is catadromous in nature; it migrates to the ocean to breed. It swims to salt water to spawn from October to December and returns to upstream ponds after. It undergoes upstream migration during December, January, and February, and this coincides with the “ipon-run phenomenon’ wherein different species of fish fry also undergo upstream migration. After the ludong had undergone downstream migration, it can be caught in Cagayan River and tributaries.
Is LUDONG WORTH ITS HIGH COST?
A mature fish weighs from 0.25 kg to 2 kg. It costs P4,000 per kilo that is why it’s the most expensive fish in the country.
It commands a very high price because it is seasonal and difficult to catch. It has also a unique taste and peculiar aroma when cooked, hence it is one of the most sought-after ingredients.
Ludong is becoming an endangered species, considering its threatened state in Northern Luzon waters. Information gathered from fish vendors in Cagayan showed that the volume of ludong catch has been tremendously decreasing annually.
It is also observed that over the years, the sizes of ludong caught are getting smaller. According to a BFAR report, the catch of ludong in 1998 weighed 2.4 kg and it decreased to 0.25 kg in 2001. Moreover, no ludong was reportedly caught in 2002 and 2003, a proof to its declining population.
Due to its scarcity and high value in the market, the desire to catch ludong increases, resulting in overfishing and endangerment. This concern resulted in the issuance of Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 31 aimed at conserving ludong in Northern Luzon.
FAO 31 prohibits the capture, purchase, sale, preparation, and serving of ludong for private and public consumption during its seasonal migration. It also prohibits the use of tabukol, a cast net of large meshes; tabak, a small drag seine for river fishing; and pateng, a cylindrical fish pot for catching mullet, in the Cagayan River and its tributaries and in the Santa-Abra River System.
In 2006, BFAR launched Oplan Sagip Ludong, a wide fish hunt in Aparri for 60 pieces of live ludong. The hunt was conducted during the first half of October because it was the best time to catch live ludong. The fish hunt resulted in the identification of.at least 30 more “probable species” of ludong, which BFAR researchers are now studying.
At the moment, the only live ludong in captivity is at the BFAR Research Center in Bonuan Binloc in Dagupan City. The fish was caught five years ago in the Cagayan River in Aparri town. It weighs 1.5 kg. This provides researchcrs an opportunity to study further the fish and its breeding habits.
Forty fingerlings of fish, which are caught recently, are also being cultured at BFAR for further morphological identification. The live ludong was donated in 2001 and the fingerlings in January 2006 by Dr. Lino Edralim Lim for further studies on their physical traits and DNA fingerprinting. The results of these studies will be use in the study on the various fish that looked like ludong.
R&D PROJECT ON LUDONG
Given the economic importance of aquaculture, its performance as a key sector in the country’s development is a great concern both for its development and sustainability. Research and development (R&D) is one area that could boost the progress of this sector.
The Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), being the national R&D coordinator for fisheries, supports projects on high-value freshwater species to boost their production.
Among the high-value freshwater species identified by BAR in its R&D prioritization are ulang (giant freshwater prawn), yu yu (loach), pigek (therapon), and ludong.
For ludong, BAR supported the project Research and Development Studies for the Sustainable Management and Conservation of Cestraeus plicatilis in Cagayan Valley.
Initiated in October 2007 and completed in 2008, the project was implemented by BFAR Region 2 based in Tuguegarao City. It was headed by Evelyn C. Ame, head of the Research Division of BFAR Region 2.
The project aims to study the reproductive biology and conditions affecting the population dynamics of ludong to sustain its production and to develop strategies geared towards its conservation and protection.
In the initial study of Ame, ludong is considered a threatened species given the increasing desire to catch this elusive fish. Hence, “benchmark information is needed specific on studying their monthly reproduction, particularly during spawning season,” Ame said. She added that “information on its sexual maturity is also vital in formulating management and conservation measures for ludong.”
Likewise, given the species’ seasonality and high demand, she recommended breeding of ludong in captivity to exploit its market potential and sustain production and supply throughout the year.