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Shortage of ocean fish rocks the 'cradle of aquaculture' into action

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In a water tank outside Manila last year, a school of milkfish was bred for the first time in captivity. While it is a long way from lab tank to frying pan, the achievement nonetheless elated the longtime Asian growers of Chanos chanos.m After all, milkfish "farming" in lakes and tidal areas has not changed much since Magellan landed on Philippines shores in 1521.

The small fry of milkfish have always had to be caught in the wild, a practice as onorous as chicken-king Frank Perdue's having to chase down wild chicks for his farms.

The new breeding technique -- known as spontaneous spawning of pond-grown fish -- will allow generation of fast-breeding varieties that could bring two or three "crops" a year instead of just one.

"We're really domesticating fish," said Dr. Ziad H. Shehadeh, director general of the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, the organization set up in 1977 to coordinate Asia's long-term fishing development.

Just 15 years ago, Asia experienced an agricultural revolution when scientists bred a new, sturdier rice. Now the little-noticed advancement at the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) outside Manila has been seen as no small-try revolution for another ancient Asian delicacy -- fish.

What fish and chips are to Britain, fish and rice are to Asia. Because rice is not a complete diet, fish protein has been Asia's main supplement, with an average 25 to 35 kilograms a year eaten in most countries.

Along with carp, mullet, and tilapias, the milkfish ranks the highest in potential expansion for Asia's practice of aqua-culture, which ranges from finfish to oysters, and yet is still swimming along slowly.

Why the excitement over fish-tank genetics?

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