17 Apr2007


My trip to Palawan was coming to an end and I only had one more thing on my “mental checklist” 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 live3sounding 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 “local” 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-lapu’s in their holding tanks but they were spectacular… 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 don’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 live2Southeast 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 crème de la crème 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 sautéed deer’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 month’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 family…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 worth… So back to the fish… held in small tanks that are fed with fresh sea water and aerated, the fish are “conditioned” 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 shouldn’t be poo-pooing them so readily…but it was interesting to see exactly what all the fuss was about…



  1. Adam says:

    Hi MM

    Having lived in Coron for much of 2005 and 2006 I have followed your recent travels with much interest. Your comments on the live fish industry are well made; much of the incredibly stunning scenery above the water around Coron is sadly not matched underwater. Widespread dynamite and cyanide fishing practises have ravaged much of the reef and reef life in the area and in many places what were once beautiful corals have now been turned to rubble.

    Sadly, as you point out, cyanide fishing continues, as indeed does dynamite fishing, with seemingly little being done to stop it. There are groups within the town working hard to encourage sustainable fishing practises but it must surely be an uphill struggle.

    I was happy to read that you found plenty of fish for sale in the public market and maybe that hints at better times ahead. Often the only fish available were very small and not desperately edible – unfortunately the law of diminishing returns means that with fewer and fewer fish in the water even the smallest ones get taken out and sold. Meaning of course that marine life in the area continues to decline. The situation is not helped by large fishing boats from all around the country coming into the area to fish. In many places the waters are almost devoid of life.

    It is not however all bad news, there is a marine sanctuary (of sorts) at 7 Picados where snorkelers and divers can still see a good variety of reef life inclding turtles and rays. You also mentioned the pearl farms en route to Culion. Did you know that there are many WW2 Japanese ship-wrecks there that attract scuba divers from all around the world? The pearl farmers rigorously protect their valuable assets from any interested parties (including fishermen) and as such the wrecks have become unofficial but safe sanctuaries for a wealth of marine life.

    The area around Dimayka Island (Club Paradise) also has a well maintained reef and fantastic corals – but it is a private resort and is fortunately very protective about the condition of the immediate local environment.

    I think that one (if not THE) of the great ecological challenges facing us in the next few years is balancing the eating needs of society with a duty to protect our marine environment for both it’s inhabitants and for the enjoyment and wonder of future generations of humans. Currently I have a slightly gloomy view on the success of such a mission.

    Anyway this was not really meant as a rant but simply an observation. I think that you have written very eloquently about a little known, yet beautiful and friendly, part of the country that would surely benefit from having more vistors. It was great reading thanks – next year Catanduanes or Batanes?!!

    ps Where is Market Market?

    Apr 17, 2007 | 5:39 pm


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  3. Marketman says:

    Adam, I truly appreciate your obviously insightful comments. I agree that the balance between enjoying the region’s natural beauty and destroying it by us tourists arriving in droves is definitely the key issue at hand. I personally would pay 4x the price for everything I ate and experienced in and around Coron if only they were all collected in a manner respectful to the sustainability of the food source, the use of beaches, etc. But that is me and unfortunately, I am less hopeful of the overall direction of “progress”… I wish the region well and I SHALL DEFINITELY RETURN. Market!Market! is a mall in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, near Makati. Thanks.

    Apr 17, 2007 | 6:41 pm

  4. Maria Clara says:

    Graft and corruption of our politicians and military personnel play a major role in illegal fishing. Horrible ripple effect of illegal fishing leads to demise of our migratory birds and all lives in the sea. I hope the fish with most concentration of cyanide will end up at the politicians’ plate. In Chinese culture they always equate fish with good luck and prosperity hence they serve at their Lauriat dinners and banquets. Hong Kong and China have deep pockets and their buying power is humongous.

    Apr 18, 2007 | 12:56 am

  5. Jade186 says:

    We are discussing it here but has any steps being made to stop this sort of trade? Alas, all talk and no action.

    Apr 23, 2007 | 7:58 pm

  6. Marketman says:

    Jade186, actually, I think banning it would be foolish. We all eat fish in the Philippines, so it isn’t the fact that we take fish from the sea that is reprehensible, but the manner in which the fish is caught. I think the residents and fishermen of Palawan deserve to reap some of the economic benefits of their toiling in their waters, it is the use of cyanide in some cases that is objectionable. Also, these fish bring far more to the fishermen than a black lapu-lapu, so export of it to folks who value it so highly is not bad on its own. A lot of the local fish available in the markets fresh, or canned in groceries, or otherwise prepared could also have been caught by ships run in the muro-ami fashion, or by the use of dynamite, or using dragnets that kill other creatures so the issue that needs to be addressed is a more ethical manner of fishing, not the outright banning or trade in fish…

    Apr 23, 2007 | 8:48 pm

  7. Jade186 says:

    I didn’t express myself well – I was referring to the trade where the fishing techniques used are harmful, dangerous and damaging. Although there exists some legislation regarding the prohibition of such methods, they are not enforced at all, what seems to be even worst is the apparent apathy of those who see that this is occurring right in front of their noses and does not make any steps no matter how small to prevent or stop it. Talking or discussing about it seems fair enough, but still very little is done.

    On a micro-scale one can propose educating the fishermen on the long term effects of such methods, and the alternatives, such as acquaculture, eco-tourism, or even diversifying industries.
    But of course I might as well talk to my cat. Please excuse me.

    Apr 23, 2007 | 10:00 pm

  8. Marketman says:

    Jade186, yes, I understand where you are coming from, and I totally agree that something has to be done. If it were up to me, you know how I would probably use the cyanide… or the dynamite for that matter… From what I understand, the indigenous people and other stakeholders of the Coron area have recently been discussing the interrelated impact of cyanide on the fish, reefs and poor catches… and the islanders on Higantes/Coron island are aware that the cyanide may affect the swiftlets as well, so maybe there is a slight glimmer of hope… as with you, I wish more could be done.

    Apr 23, 2007 | 10:38 pm

  9. Bubut says:

    those live fish once ordered in the restaurant are thrown directly at the boiling pot for the soup as the Chinese believes that if they had the soup of live lapu-lapu, that will give them more energy and good health. That’s why they prefer the live fish even if they are very expensive.

    Apr 25, 2007 | 11:23 am

  10. Vinz says:

    I am looking for a brown lapu-lapu fish buyer.I have at least 250 live fish with weighing scale of 800grms to 1 kg..

    Those interested for bidding please email me: makapalek@yahoo.com

    Aug 5, 2007 | 4:59 pm

  11. marie says:

    am looking 4 a codfish not more than 20inch and 80-90% oven dry…pls email me…deepskin2005@yahoo.com

    Aug 12, 2007 | 1:11 am

  12. JUN BALONZO says:

    isa po ak nmi2li lapulapu s amin gus2 k lng malaman naghahanp ak n buyer slmt po.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 10:08 pm


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