How to Start a Bangus (Milkfish) Farm – Part 2

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How to Start a Bangus (Milkfish) Farm – Part 2

Fish Farm Overseer/Caretaker

Some owners or lessees of bangus farms stay 24/7 in the farm and personally run the business themselves. For those who can, it’s the way to go. The family members work on the farm and keep watch of the ponds. They don’t have to rely on anyone, except for some temporary hired workers, especially during harvesting, major dike repair, or pond draining.

Other fish farm owners or lessees visit their ponds often enough but don’t stay there all the time. In our case, I go to my farm (218 kilometers away from Manila) every other week and stay there for 5 to 6 days each trip.

In my absence, my farm overseer (“katiwala“) takes over. She’s assisted by an assistant caretaker (“kompunidor”).

            My farm overseer tossing lumut into the pond

Exercise due diligence in screening and selecting your overseer/caretaker because it’s a position of utmost trust. Do a background check. The overseer/caretaker is a major success factor in bangus farming.

With a trusted and hardworking caretaker, fish farming is good business, especially if you have Class A or B ponds. With a dishonest one, it’s really tough to make decent profits. A caretaker may adopt sound farming techniques, but if the controls are poor and the caretaker is crooked, business will not take off. He’ll find ingenious ways to cheat and then explain away the loss. It’s not easy to catch him in the act. But the pattern of losses and poor harvests will speak for themselves. 

Those who are new in the business may be vulnerable, as they’re still gaining experience and may be swayed by the dishonest caretaker. So beware. Click this for my blog post on the Dirty Tricks to Avoid in Fish Farming to alert you on what can happen. Being forewarned will let you put in place the needed safeguards or avoid being victimized.

When you tap the services of caretaker, compensation and housing needs must be addressed.

A small hut (alulong) in the middle of the ponds (with red roof) 

For housing, it means building a small hut (“alulong” in Pangasinense) usually made of bamboo posts and walls with GI sheet or “pawid” roofing (usually made of “nipa” leaves). Wall is made of “sawali
(woven split bamboo mats). Floor is raised and also made of bamboo. A
budget of Php40,000 to 50,000 for materials and labor of a small “alulong” should suffice especially if the caretaker is part of the building crew. Or spend even less if you do it yourself (click this on how to build your own bamboo farm hut).

For compensation, caretakers in our locality usually receive any of the following:

· A third of profits (“tersia”)(after deducting operating expenses, including pond rental) plus half of the sale of extraneous fish entering the pond (“sari-sari” in Pangasinan). This is the usual arrangement for Class A ponds. Can also be applied to Class B and C ponds although no “sari-sari” fishes are caught in those ponds.

· Fifty (50) % of profits (net of operating expenses, including pond rental).

· Monthly pay of Php3,500-4,000 plus free rice, occasional bonus.

· Monthly pay of Php4,000 plus 50% share of extraneous fish (“sari-sari”) (for Class A ponds)

A pond shed “alulong
may or may not have a supply of electricity. Access to a hand water pump is a must though. But if you build a small house for yourself,
you’ll need to have power and water installed by local utility

Electricity connection offers a lot of advantages and
costs about Php1,000/mo. of normal use, including farm lighting. Monthly bill for metered
water should be much lower. In the absence of both however, at least a
hand water pump for drawing water is a must. Well water is used for washing colored clothes, watering plants, cleaning and washing farm implements, etc. 


A hand water pump drawing water into a drum and basin

With an owned or leased pond, a trusty caretaker to watch over your bangus, a small hut over his head, and basic utilities, your fish farm is good to go.

Basic Fish Farm Implements

Now that you have your pond (leased or owned) and your caretaker, you’ll need some basic farming tools and implements. These are readily available locally, either in nearby cities of Dagupan or Lingayen. Nets can also be custom-made for you by local net weavers.

1. Haul or drag seine (“kalokor”) net – a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with the bottom edge held down by weights and the top edge buoyed by floats. It is hauled or dragged manually at both ends by a harvest crew throughout the length of the pond and catches fish by enclosing and trapping them in a pocket. 

It is normally rented from seine (“kalokor”) rental shops and needed during harvest only (12 hours rate is anywhere from Php100 to 400 depending on size).

                    A “kalokor” (seine) net being hauled in by hired harvest workers

2. Sorting net (“saplar”) – have at least three pieces of this with one extra large sized (made to order). Net weavers are readily available in the locality. This is used for transferring catch from the seine net after one pass, so the seine net can be used again. Meanwhile, the captured fish in the sorting net is taken to a larger “saplar” in the fish processing area. 

3. Scoop nets (“tapigo”) – have a minimum of three (either buy ready-made in Lingayen or have it custom-made). Used for scooping fish from the sorting net into a jute sack or plastic bag or to a chilling vat or tub.

4. Plastic bags – for transferring fingerlings from one pond to another; bought in a specialty kitchen supplies store in Dagupan City.

5. Plastic strainers – used for sorting out fingerlings; can be bought in a kitchen supplies shop. Buy at least 6 pieces.

Clockwise from top: blue sorting net (“saplar”), 2 scoop nets (“tapigo”), 2 strainers, plastic bags

6. Gill nets (“tabal”, “lambat”) – usually rented but you can have some made for you after you buy the materials. Size of mesh or hole varies, usually size 5, 6, 7 or 8. Twine size is .015 for tilapia and .020 for bangus. This is used during post-harvest to catch remaining fish. The net catches fish that pass through it by snagging it at the gills, with the trapped fish unable to swim forward or retreat.

7. Protective nets – for nets installed in low lying areas or dikes for flood protection purposes; also used in inlet pipes or culverts to prevent escape of fish. Can be bought in rolls, single or double width size. If you can go to Divisoria, Manila, you can get cheaper price.

8. Long bamboo stakes (“onoon”) – buy the entire bamboo from the local bamboo supplier. Cut it to pieces lengthwise, smooth the edges and sharpen at one end. These are used to secure the sorting net in the pond. Also used to attach protective nets.

Blue protective net installed on a low dike separating my East Pond and North Pond. Net is attached to long bamboo stakes (“onoon”

9. Short bamboo stakes (“tulaing”) – short (less than a foot long) stakes used to anchor the bottom line of a protective net (for protection against floods) to the ground.


 Short bamboo stakes (tulaing) are used to anchor the bottom line of protective nets to the ground. Also shown are jute sacks.

10. Plastic chilling vats or tubs – container filled with shaved ice and some water and used to kill fish in ice; can be bought cheaper in household goods stores in Dagupan.

                                                      A chilling tub or vat 

 11. Metal saucer – for scooping and spreading ice; bought in kitchen supplies stores in Dagupan City.

12. Jute sacks – for hauling harvested fish from the pond’s fish processing area to waiting tricycles or jeepneys. Use your empty feeds sacks. Or you can buy sacks at Php 5 apiece.

13. Trolley or hand truck – for moving heavy or bulky objects; with handles at top, two wheels at the base, and a small ledge which carries the load.

                                    A trolley or hand truck  

14. Transport equipment (either tricycle or jeepney)
– Use a tricycle or two (motorcycle with a wheeled sidecar cabin for
passengers or goods) for transporting lower volume catch (up to 2,000
pcs. depending on size). Hire a jeepney (a modified jeep with two
long extended seats at the back, popular means of cheap transport in
the Philippines). This is for high volume catch say, 3,500 pcs. and
above, depending on size.

Jeepney hire rate is
about Php800 per trip (say from Binmaley to Dagupan fish center).
Tricycle hire is around Php180 to 200 per trip with driver. It would be a
good investment to have your own tricycle. It’s a popular means of
transport in the provinces (including Pangasinan) among ordinary folks
and is very useful for fish farm operators. 

Water pump diesel engine with aluminum tubing – a Chinese-made 14 or 16
HP diesel water pump engine can be bought for around Php14,000 to
16,000 and a brand new aluminum tubing or hose can be bought at
Php40,000 to 50,000 (much cheaper if second-hand).

Hired Manpower

fish farm caretaker attends to the day-to-day work in the pond
including feeding, monitoring, and maintenance. But he would need extra
hand (temporary hired workers) for certain types of farm activities,
such as harvesting, fingerling transfer, etc.

1. For harvesting or fingerling transfer

· Harvest (“kalokor”) workers – (usually 6 hired workers at Php150 to 200/day) hired only for harvesting purposes or when transferring fingerlings

· Transport workers (1 or 2 tricycle drivers depending on harvest volume)

· Pond support (cooking, cleaning, errands, watchers, etc.) – maybe spouse, child, or relative of caretaker

Marketing crew to take harvest to fish center in Dagupan City –
(operator, caretaker, 2 drivers, 1 extra hand), depending on volume of
fish to be sold.

2. For major dike repair – caretaker can do
minor repair of dikes. But for major ones, you need to hire dike repair
workers to do land fill work (“tambak”) usually on labor contract
basis. If you need dike reinforcement requiring earth-filled sacks, you
can negotiate based on piecemeal rate – usual rate is Php10 to 12 per

Doing a major repair of a dike, i.e. land filling to add to its height and width

Dike after undergoing a major improvement

3. For deepening of pond – normally done by the same group
you hire for dike repair. You can negotiate the job on labor contract
basis or if you want only a limited area of your pond deepened, you can
negotiate on piecemeal basis. The term used locally is “tramo”, equivalent to an area 5 meters by 15 meters and about a foot deep. Rate charged is Php800 to 900 per one “tramo” work and goes up as digging moves farther away from the dike.

4. For removal of pond water (“limas” in Pangsinense)–
In our case (Class C ponds), we remove water from the pond once a year
before doing pond preparation for the next cropping season. Unless you
have your own water pump and hose, you need to hire one or two pumps at a
current rate of Php700 for about 8 hours/per pump. Two water pump
operators already come with the pump rental. What you need to hire are
the temporary harvest workers who will pick up (“kemel” in Pangasinense) the remaining bangus, tilapia, prawns, when pond water is removed. Click this for the related post on how to do pond draining (“limas“).


5. For post-harvest removal of remaining fish – After a regular harvest, you may opt to take out remaining bangus or tilapia
that remain in the pond using gill nets. You need to hire 2 or 3 gill net
workers for this purpose. As payment, workers get a third of the net
proceeds of the sale (less expenses) of whatever they catch. A rental of
Php50 per gill net is also paid for the use of the net. The gill net may
be owned by you or may be rented from a gill net owner.

For a complete list of Fish Pond Buddy blog posts on fish farm-related topics, please click the Index page.