My trip to Palawan was coming to an end and I only had one more thing on my â€œmental checklistâ€ to do, if at all possible. The live fish motels I featured here were still on my mind, and I wanted to see some of the fish that were exported alive and at the exhorbitant sounding PHP1,500 a kilo price to the fishermen. What was it about these fish that were so special? So off we went in a tricycle down the coast of Coron town (actually, also to the Hot Springs but those were unimpressive and not recommended at all) in search of some of these fish exporters. I was accompanied by a â€œlocalâ€ and sure enough, with just a few minutes and a few words with the manager of a large consolidator, we were allowed access to their holding tanks and to take these photos. A huge shipment had just been sent out that morning so there were only a few dozen or so lapu-lapuâ€™s in their holding tanks but they were spectacularâ€¦ I will state now that I am of two minds on this live fish export business. On the one hand, it is a very high revenue source for local fishermen and it pumps serious cash into the local economy for something that is natural and a product of the seas that surround the area. However, the negative side speaks of cyanide poisoning to stun the fish which in turn find their way into swiftlets diets and kills them off, reducing the bird population and prized saliva nests. Also, the cyanide permanently damages corals and that pisses me off no end and I donâ€™t think I would hesitate to throttle someone who knowingly uses cyanide in the seas; they can use it on themselves, as far as I am concerned. So while I am sure some of these fish are caught naturally, I suspect many of them are not. Therefore, I acknowledge there is a seedy side to this type of fishy business.
The fish in these tanks are a much sought after and prized coral trout or locally referred to as senorita lapu-lapus. They are a pale orange or reddish color with small blue spots all over their bodies. Also referred to as leopard cod, they are abundant in Southeast Asia down to Australia. The banca side price at the moment? A stunning PHP1,500 (USD30) per kilo for those that are exactly a kilo in weight, or a few grams up or down. What is the reason for their incredibly high cost? A nearly insatiable demand from Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese restaurants and diners for these fish, which are considered the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of live seafood, and a total status symbol at key celebratory meals. I am being cynical, but the same folks who might seek out a sautÃ©ed deerâ€™s phallus are probably the same ones lining up to pay big money, sometimes upwards of USD150-250 or PHP7,500 to 12,500 for these fish in a fancy restaurant in Hong Kong, regardless of the manner in which the fish are gathered! I would bet a monthâ€™s wages (since I am retired) that blindfolded, most slightly inebriated diners would be unable to tell the difference between this fish and a slightly dead and different cousin of the grouper familyâ€¦but doing such a scientific expirement and getting the results I think are true, would instantly discombobulate the entire industry that is several hundred million dollars worthâ€¦ So back to the fishâ€¦ held in small tanks that are fed with fresh sea water and aerated, the fish are â€œconditionedâ€ until they are strong enough to be transported by chartered planes to Manila and beyond. I have never actually eaten one of these particular types of lapu-lapu so I shouldnâ€™t be poo-pooing them so readilyâ€¦but it was interesting to see exactly what all the fuss was aboutâ€¦