By Rintos Mail
source : borneopostonline.com
CATFISH is no stranger in Sarawak. Irrespective of where you live, the whiskered fish can never be far away from you. They can actually be found all over the State; in lakes, rivers, ponds, dam spillways, or just about any place that holds water year round.
They are able to survive anywhere because they are not picky about what they eat — worms, minnows, licorie, bread, meat and even rubber seeds.
Due to their natural instinct of lurking in dark, deep channels and muddy water, the fish hunt more by scent and feel than sight.
Studies have shown they are attracted to food by scent, or by disturbance in the water which could signal a fish in distress of something dropping into the water. They sense and feel motions through their barbels, the four pairs of whiskers that give the catfish their name.
Although there are more than 2,200 species of catfish around the world, only the clarius macrocephalus (keli bunga), clarius batrachus (keli kayu) are commonly found in Sarawak rivers and streams.
Large size catfish generally prefer deep channels in rivers, pockets at the mouths of streams running into rivers, the holes scoured around dams and river bends, and the centre of large lakes.
The best time to fish for catfish is after a heavy rain or flood as the high water brings more food into the river and allows the fish to swim to new territories for spawning and new feeding ground.
Until recent years catfish were plentiful in almost every public waterway but like many species of freshwater fish, it is now threatened by over-fishing, loss of habitat and habitat connectivity and these days anglers would be lucky to catch two or three from some rivers and streams.
The catfish inhabits a number of ecological niches, from invasive pest to farmed fish to aquarium fish.
It is also a chef’s delight as its flesh is dense, white and sturdy standing up well to frying and grilling.
Catfish is in great demand abroad, including Peninsular Malaysia, because it is high in Omega 3.
Omega 3 refers to families of oil that have more than one double bond and where the first double bond occurs between the 3rd and 4th from the omega end (i.e. methyl terminal carbon — CH3 end) of the molecule. Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids with the double bond in the third carbon position from the methyl terminal (hence the use of “3″ in their description)
Omega-3 oils have been called ‘the miracle food of the 21st century’. Research shows the right type can help prevent heart disease maintain optimum blood pressure and cholesterol levels and give almost immediate relief from joint pain, migraines, depression, autoimmune diseases and many other conditions.
And, by improving brain development and memory functioning, from conception through to old age, certain Omega-3 oils are considered as the perfect brain food.
Catfish belonging to the families Ictaluridae are widely distributed in different parts of the world and their culture is now common in the Philippines and Thailand (Clarias macrocephalus, C. batrachus), Cambodia (Pangasius), Africa (C. gariepinus), Europe (Silurus glanis) and USA (channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus, white catfish I. cactus and blue catfish I. furcatus).
Catfish is now one of the most profitably farmed fish in Sarawak, especially in Kuching. Most of the catfish in the market were farmed and some are caught from the wild.
An officer from the State Agriculture Department, Kuching Division, who requested anonymity, disclosed that the African catfish (clarius gariepinus) is the dominant species cultured in Sarawak, Kuching in particular.
This species, he added breed well in local ponds and also could survive in streams and rivers.
It is very hardy and has a high level of tolerance of low oxygen level.
The officer noted that properly designed and constructed ponds were critical to the success of a commercial catfish operation. “Well-designed ponds, constructed on soil with a proper clay content and adequate water supply, have a useful life of at least 10 years.”
Generally, three types of ponds may be used in catfish farming. And the most common type in Sarawak is the embankment or levee ponds.
Embankment ponds are built on flat land by removing soil from the area that will be the pond bottom and using that soil to form levees or embankments around the pond.
Other types are watershed ponds, built in hilly areas by damming a small stream, and a hybrid watershed — embankment pond. This pond may have two or three sides consisting of embankments (actually low dams) across a relatively small drainage basin. They are built in regions with gently rolling topography.
In Kuching, the size of each earth pond is generally between 0.3 and 0.5 hectare while the average depth is five to six feet.
A single 10-inch diameter drain of heavy gauge, coated metal or PVC pie is normally used to maintain water level and drain a commercial pond.
The drain normally is extended into the pond and past the outside levee toe by at least five feet. A perimeter drainage system should be constructed to receive effluent and to prevent water from collecting outside levees.
The ideal number of fish per hectare, according to the officer, is 20,000 tails in still water and 50,000 tails or more per hectare for a pond with running water or efficient aeration system.
He said in a year, each pond could have two to three cycles, depending on the intensity of feeding and the size of the catfish.
“A farmer may harvest the fish after four to six months. But normally, each cycle takes four months when the size of the fish is ideal for most consumers.”
“Most catfish lovers prefer smaller size — between two to three tails per kg though the fish may reach up to five kg per tail,” he said.
He said the wholesale (farmgate price) of cultured catfish is RM3.20 per kg while the market price is between RM5 and RM6 per kg.
So far in Sarawak farmers did not rear catfish all year round as they switched to other types of fish after every harvest, he added.
However, he believed catfish culture was lucrative even if it goes through three cycles in a year, as each cycle is able to produce between 10 and 20 tonnes.
Catfish cultured in Sarawak, and Kuching in particular, are sold fresh in the market for household consumption, although in Peninsular Malaysia the fish is also processed or canned.
MAIS Food Industries Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Selangor Agricultural Development Corporation, is one of those companies that process catfish.
A Bernama report on Dec 17 reported that the company was currently producing one tonne of smoked catfish daily, generating an income to the tune of RM20,000 per day. The processed fish is sold in 500gm packs under the ‘Al-Misbah’ brand name in several flavours, including teriyaki sauce, pepper sauce, spicy sambal, hot curry and spicy tom yam.
Catfish might be getting scarcer in our streams and rivers nowadays but they are abundant in the ponds of fish farms as this once humble fish finds its niche in commercial farming.