Farm pest now exported food

Tuguegarao City, Cagayan - At the height of a rice eel infestation of inland areas in some provinces in Cagayan Valley Region, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has devised a way to turn this pest into an export-quality food product.

The rice eel, locally known as ''kiwet'' and scientifically called as Monopterus albus, has been a predicament of rice farmers and fishpond operators of Region 2, particularly in the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino since 2011.

These non-indigenous fish species, which grows 25cm to 40cm into adulthood, reportedly destroys rice paddies by burrowing themselves in the soil, loosening its composition and causing water irrigation to leak off.

BFAR Director Asis G. Perez said that like another invasive species, the knife fish, the rice eel is also a voracious predator which feeds on frogs, snail eggs including other fishes and shrimps, thereby posing a serious threat to the country's native fish species.

Reports have indicated, however, that while the common eel is native to the Philippines, the ''kiwet'' might have been introduced here from abroad for commercial breeding for home aquariums and eel farms for food.

To address this problem, BFAR Region 2 has initiated the development and processing of the rice eel into a value added product.

The bureau has also developed an efficient and environment-friendly fishing gear which enabled farmers to increase the catch per unit effort (CPUE) by taking advantage of the nocturnal hunting behavior of the animal.

''These initial efforts combined with the entrepreneurial skill of several international fish trading companies that are now exporting the fish live in Asian countries, have turned this ''pest'' into valuable fish,''he added.

Two years following its massive infestation, the country is now profiting greatly from the said fish species, bringing in an estimated amount of P517 million in export value from January to June this year.

Current projection indicates that Region 2 alone is likely to produce over P1 billion worth of export of the rice eel at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, local government agriculture experts in Nueva Vizcaya are conducting skills training on food processing among farmers' and women's groups to address the problem of destructive eels on rice fields in the province.

Alexander Domingo, supervising agriculturist said they have just concluded the food processing skills training in the towns of Solano, Villaverde, Quezon and Bagabag to teach the stakeholders in earning additional income from harvesting and processing rice eels.

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