17 Apr2011

Precious Cargo…

by Marketman

It could almost have been a scene from a James Bond movie… The stunningly vintage prop plane is what caught everyone’s eye, but no one was really dressed for the part. While waiting for our commercial flight to land at the Busuanga/Coron airport, I spied this unfolding scene on one side of the tarmac. Chartered light planes ferry precious cargo of live fish such as lapu-lapu, lobsters, etc. to Manila from where most of the cargo is then sent to Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. I wrote about the business of live fish exports before, here, here and here, so this was just another link in the process…

Dozens of white styrofoam coolers were loaded onto the planes, and if you notice in the photo above, several carrying cases of live fighting cocks were also amongst the cargo that day.

I was told that some types of live fish or crustaceans command a price of as much as PHP1,500 PER KILO in Coron (think nearly exactly a kilo large red lapu-lapu, or a gorgeous spiny lobster) alive, so you can see why it’s worth their while to hire planes to ferry them to customers…

Once the planes were full, they taxied and took off in rapid succession. I wasn’t sure what type of (vintage) prop plane this was, but I figured it must have been at least 50? years old. Surprisingly, it seemed to require FAR LESS runway to take off than the little Cessna before it. If there are any aviation experts out there, I would love to know what type of plane this was… And since the cabin/cargo deck was slanted while on the ground, don’t you think some of the water in those coolers would have spilled out? Turns out the fish are in water in large plastic bags, pumped with oxygen, then tied shut and sealed with the styrofoam cover…



  1. kim e says:

    those prop planes look like toys! haha

    Apr 17, 2011 | 7:31 am


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  3. rac says:

    this is an honest way of working. the contents of these styfoams are not the
    same if you’re in central america.

    Apr 17, 2011 | 8:39 am

  4. Footloose says:

    As mentioned in the most recent of the linked posts, one crucial step in this amazing commerce is controlled chilling of the water in the holding tank right before the fish are packed loosely in bags. This must throw their metabolism into low gear which makes them appear dazed at the start as they actually enter a state akin to hibernation so they are actually sedate and unaware that they are being transported in the hold of a fifty year old dinky plane. If you are a well-heeled consumer downstream from Japanese waters, I think these treats from the pristine Palawan sea are a safe bargain.

    Apr 17, 2011 | 10:07 am

  5. lee says:

    The prop plane looks like a smaller Douglas DC-3 we have at camp in Afghanistan that gave me the scariest plane ride of my life. Two hours of turbulence and vertical drops!

    Apr 17, 2011 | 10:50 am

  6. RG says:

    It is a Beech 18. Lovely sound from those radial engines. A very old yet reliable aircraft. Something that would be fun to own and fly one day. The original design had a short and stubby nose , which in my opinion looked nicer. The plane in picture has had a nose job :p

    The other plane looks like a Cessna 208 Caravan. Another workhorse aircraft.

    Apr 17, 2011 | 10:59 am

  7. Marketman says:

    RG, thanks for identifying the plane model, and the comment about the nose job was too funny! And the plane is likely from the 1950’s I think, phew, nearly 60 years old!

    Apr 17, 2011 | 11:14 am

  8. Westy says:

    The Beech 18 also has the distinction of being the first plane in the fleet of Philippine Airlines. It dates back to 1937 but was still being manufactured up until 1970.

    Some nice shots of it here as Jim Backus’ plane doing stunts in the comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” from 1963:


    Apr 17, 2011 | 12:21 pm

  9. Anything Under the Sun says:


    Apr 17, 2011 | 4:42 pm

  10. tenbreedmountaindog says:

    Wasn’t there a Filipino who invented this amazing way of putting fish into a state of catatonic slumber, enabling shippers to squeeze more into the same shipping container? Whatever happened to that?

    It was touted to be such an advance that it will bring untold riches to its inventor (much like the water powered car? LOL). Where’s a good Filipino when you need one, huh?

    Apr 17, 2011 | 4:57 pm

  11. elian says:

    Those airplanes are with reciprocating type of engines.

    Apr 17, 2011 | 5:26 pm

  12. Gerry says:

    I sure hope they didn’t use cyanide to catch the groupers. I heard that it was commonly used in Palawan, but I hope they’ve stopped the practice.

    Apr 17, 2011 | 6:08 pm

  13. Nomadic Pinoy says:

    Now that you mentioned James Bond, this Beech 18 aircraft was in fact used in the movie “Octopussy” (where Roger Moore clung outside of the plane while it was flown by the villain!)

    Apr 17, 2011 | 6:21 pm

  14. Footloose says:

    @Westy, thanks for the fantastic clip. Just imagine watching that and the rest of the movie in Cinerama. The part I vividly remember though is when the character of Jimmy Durante expired kicking an actual bucket. It was much much later when I found out what that expression actually meant.

    Apr 17, 2011 | 7:04 pm

  15. millet says:

    i wonder if there is an annual limit to the amount of seafood and oher marine life that may be harvested from our seas, and if so, if there is there is an agency that checks what goes in these planes.

    Apr 17, 2011 | 7:41 pm

  16. leo says:

    This type of flying gig is termed Fish runs” by the aviation community. Provides income to retired pilots or novice pilots accumulating flight hours needed for moving up to the majors .

    Apr 18, 2011 | 7:18 am

  17. Betchay says:

    Hi MM! I know this is unrelated but I think this is something Catholic Filipinos abroad and even those here in the country will like to check out to reflect upon this Lenten season. It was put up by the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines


    Click on visita iglesia,seven last words and pasyon on the left hand side for the traditional Filipino Lenten celebration.

    Apr 18, 2011 | 8:02 am

  18. paolo says:

    @tenbreed, the water powered car invention was sold and the family is living well off today, that is as far as i know.
    MM, happy palm sunday!

    Apr 18, 2011 | 8:15 am

  19. Joel says:

    Are you covering sea produce since lent is just a few days away?

    Apr 18, 2011 | 11:04 am

  20. Yoohoo Villanueva says:

    Hi MM,

    I curious to find out how foodies today react to ingredients (ie beef, tuna, wasabi, eggs, etc) labeled “imported from Japan”. Is it a positive, negative, or neutral? Is their perception carried over to shochu and sake? Would you be willing to do a survey among your fans?



    Apr 18, 2011 | 11:39 am

  21. tweaker95b says:

    The other plane is a Cessna 207 “Skywagon” while the twin engine plane is a Beech 18 “Volpar”. The live fish trade in Palawan is monitored or controlled by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, pero syempre maski huli sa cyanide at overfishing ang mga lapu2x eh nakakalusot pa din.

    Apr 18, 2011 | 11:41 am

  22. Marketman says:

    tweaker, thanks for that, I am so glad a couple of readers are plane buffs… while I used to be able to name just about any model of commercial jet aircraft around as a result of traveling for work so much, I am clueless about the smaller planes… Hi Yoohoo, while I have put a comment on seaweed from Japan as a possible area of concern personally, I don’t think too many other products will draw attention… to my knowledge or personal consumption, there are aren’t many Japanese dairy products that I use (except chocolate with milk), nor Japanese produce that I typically buy… so the issue is not significant for me… yet. But if things don’t improve soon, I would be worried about beef eating grass… producing milk that goes into chocolate. I would be worried about seafood and seaweeds from the affected areas… but I wouldn’t blanket discriminate against all made in Japan items. Joel, no, just a byproduct of a recent visit to Palawan. After two months of dieting and no diet coke, I haven’t “given up” anything for lent. Nomadic Pinoy, thanks, you see, I had a strange intuition there was a Bond moment there. :) Westy, thanks for that link, it was hilarious.

    Apr 18, 2011 | 3:04 pm

  23. dave says:


    Yup, the Filipino Marine Biologist, Boni Comandante, PhD. who invented an anti-stress solution w/c keeps fish in a state of suspended animation is very much in action! He along with an Autralian investor they have formed, Buhi International which offers franchises of their technology abroad.

    Apr 18, 2011 | 7:22 pm

  24. Nadia says:

    A few years back, a consultant for the NGO I was working for was almost left behind by SeaAir in Busuanga airport because they didn’t call her name out during boarding time. She soon found out why they didn’t see the need to call her…she was the ONLY human passenger on a flight to Manila, together with a dozen or so fighting cocks!!! :)

    Apr 19, 2011 | 6:03 pm

  25. pinoytoolbar says:

    In some provinces elf trucks are used to deliver fish inside styrofoams w/ ice to nearby cities. So these airplane exporting first class fish to nearby countries is just like another higher version of that business. Maybe someday another higher level will evolve, like – spaceship exporting fish to nearby planets.. lol. pinoy tv

    Apr 20, 2011 | 3:06 am

  26. la_vick says:

    kuha ko na din, sobra exciting…

    Apr 17, 2012 | 12:39 pm


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