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Saving Ludong: the President’s Fish

Have you ever tasted the most expensive fish in the Philippines? 

This is 'Ludong', a freshwater Lobed River Mullet endemic to the Cagayan River and its tributaries extending through the watersheds of Cagayan Valley and the Santa-Abra River Systems of Ilocos Sur and Abra provinces.

Ludong is said to be a cultural icon for Cagayanos. It is sometimes referred to as the Pacific Salmon with its significant value in the market reflected in its price  which can range from five to six thousand pesos per kilogram. 

Its notable market value is attributed to its rarity due to its seasonal and challenging capture. When prepared, it exudes a delightful aroma and boasts a remarkable flavor. This distinct taste places it in high demand, making it one of the most sought key ingredients in making delectable dishes.

The ‘Lurung’ has been regarded by the locals as the 'President’s fish' since only the President and the rich can afford it. It has also been given as a gift or token to visiting presidents in the Cagayan lands during its abundance.

An aquaculturist of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Region 2 conducts research on Ludong fish. (Photo courtesy of BFAR)

In some of the elderly fishers' testimonial accounts, this fish species was just regarded as among the ordinary fishes thriving abundantly in the Cagayan River, however, its population is rapidly and continuously declining. 

In the preliminary study conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the decline in the population of Ludong has been attributed to a lack of conservation measures and likewise an effect of the dredging and mining activities in their natural habitats.

The Ludong in captivity that are kept for research at the Ludong Research Center in Barangay Taggat, Claveria, Cagayan. (Image by BFAR)

According to Regional Director Angel B. Encarnacion of BFAR Region 2, Ludong is classified as a vulnerable fish species in the waters of Northern Luzon, teetering on the brink of becoming an endangered species. Without effective conservation efforts, there is a risk that Ludong will become extinct.

With this, BFAR launched the 'Oplan Sagip Ludong' - a hopeful approach to conserve the most expensive fish in the country. It is focused on research and development; conservation and protection; and intensified information and education campaigns. 

A crucial aspect of the project involves establishment of a research center in Barangay Taggat, Claveria, Cagayan to study carefully the characteristics, behavior and habitat of Ludong. In an attempt to breed the fish species in captivity to increase their population, there are now five Ludong species stocked in a circular tank (4.3-meter diameter) in the Ludong Research Center. 

Another research facility has also been established in Aparri, Cagayan to try to breed fingerlings in captivity. Parts of the activities conducted in the breeding station are to study the feeding habits of Ludong and the conduct of DNA analyses. 

Dr. Evelyn Ame, research chief of BFAR Region 2 and project leader, said there were four teams created composed of members from various government agencies conducting the long-term research activities.

"We are also hopeful that with these studies, we can craft and impose measures to protect the fish species and to increase its population for the next generation," Ame said.

Some sample of Ludong for research purposes at BFAR Region 2. (Photo from BFAR) n
A tributary of the Cagayan River where Ludong thrives. (Photo courtesy of BFAR)

One notable accomplishment of the program was the imposition of a 45-day closed season from October 1 to November 15 annually prohibiting the capture, purchase, sale, preparation and serving of the fish for private and public consumption during their spawning migration along the stretch of the Cagayan River. 

The Fisheries Administrative Circular 247 also includes the increase in the penalty for catching spawning Ludong during the closed season from P200 or confinement of up to six months to P80,000 and/or imprisonment of up to eight years correspondingly.

Other than these, BFAR also recommended to include Ludong fish in the species covered by the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act or Republic Act (RA 9147). 

Ame further said regulating the catch of Ludong during the spawning period will help not only to increase its population but also in the studies that are being conducted. 

Various awareness campaigns were also staged in an effort to save the President's fish. The media, partner agencies, local government units, and civic organizations have also pledged their commitment to help conserve Ludong, an effort to save it from extinction and to let the next generations taste the most expensive fish in the Philippines. (OTB/PIA Region 2)   

The Ludong Research Center established by BFAR in Barangay Taggat, Claveria, Cagayan. (Image by BFAR 2)

About the Author

Oliver Baccay

Information Officer IV

Region 2

  • Assistant Regional Director, Philippine Information Agency Region 2
  • Graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication 
  • Graduate of Master of Arts in Education, major in English
  • Graduate of Doctor in Public Administration

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