Focus Study

This blog aims not just to feature the smallest commercial fish in the world, Sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis Smith)1 but also to determine the factors that may have contributed to the decline of its population as well as to clear out the confusion between the said fish and Pandaka pygmaea.

Sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis Smith) was named not after the word ‘sarap’ that means delectable, rather, after the fishing gear s├írap that had tiny holes in its net. The said fish was first discovered by Dr. Hugh M. Smith in the year 1902.2 Its average length is 1.25 centimeters and can be as short as the diameter of a ten centavo coin. However, another species from the goby family (the same one which Sinarapan belongs to), the Pandaka pygmaea,  claimed the label as "the world’s smallest fish". But, because it is inedible and is considered toxic, Sinarapan got its title “the world’s smallest commercial fish”.3

Its first known home is Lake Buhi in Buhi, Camarines Sur, but recently, it was said to be also seen in Bato and Albay, both still located in the Bicol Region.4 Researchers assume that Sinarapan is able to survive in the new environment because they may have the same properties as the water in Lake Buhi, but how they were able to get there remains a mystery.

Two known Sinarapan dishes are  Guisadong Sinarapan and Daing na Sinarapan (Dried). And according to the locals of Buhi, it is indeed quite delicious.

Since it was proclaimed as edible, Sinarapan caught the interest of fishermen because they say that it is tastier than the other fish products found in the lake. 

           Extraordinary as it is, little did everyone know that Sinarapan would soon decline in number because of overharvesting. Aside from overharvesting, there are a number of issues that threaten its population.5 There’s the introduction of Tilapia (Tilapia nilotica) to the lake, which became its predator, the throwing of garbage in the lake by nearby residents, the increasing number of water hyacinths, increasing volume of excess feeds, and there even came a time where almost 80% of the lake was dominated by fish cages. Because of these factors, Republic Act 8550 (otherwise known as The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998) was strictly implemented by the local government; allotting only 10% of the lake to be used for aquaculture.6 Additionally, the actual number of fish cage operators was found to be higher than the number recorded by the Lake Development Office, resulting to deprivation of tax revenues to the local government.  The mayor even mentioned moving the town's public market and a nearby slaughter house away from the lake to prevent further degradation of Lake Buhi.7

Mayor Lacoste's plans for Buhi

            Some of the projects that the local government are currently working on are: Save Lake Buhi Now, wherein they monitor the water quality; Clean-up drives; Dismantling of fish cages; and Sinarapan repopulation through sanctuaries (Lakelet Manapao).

    Catching of Sinarapan for commercialization was banned by LGU Buhi which resulted to fishermen changing jobs. Some became farmers, some engaged into fish cage operation, while others made fish nets. At first, most of the fishermen couldn’t accept the new ordinance. But soon, they were able to understand that this was for the better, at least until the numbers become stable again. 

            As for tourism, the decline in its number had some good and bad to it. For the good part, some tourists think that this may be their last chance to see the Sinarapan because it might be gone soon. As for the drawback, some think that it’s gone already that’s why they don’t bother to visit. Sinarapan made the lake a famous spot for educational tours, too.

Aside from tourism and economy, Sinarapan plays a great role in the environment, too. Not only is it food to the Tilapia and other bigger fishes, but also an indicator of good water quality. 8

Sinarapan is currently undergoing repopulation. We consider it our pride. But do we take care of it enough so it could live through the next generations to come? Through featuring Sinarapan, the team hopes to spread a message to help bring back its glorious days.

Mr. Nachor talks about the effects of Sinarapan on Tourism, Environment, and Economy

4 [Interviews (Video Gallery)]
5 [Interviews (Video Gallery)]
7 [Interview with Hon. Rey P. Lacoste] 
8 [Interview with Mr. Bitoy Nachor]