It's flying fish business season in Batanes
- Rudy A. Fernandez () - May 29, 2011 - 12:00am

BASCO, Batanes, Philippines  – It’s “flying fish business season” in this northernmost province of the country.

Warm months are when these winged creatures of the sea come a-flying over the blue waters of the South China Sea (to Batanes’ west) and the Pacific Ocean (to the coast) that wash the shores of this 10-island province.

Actually, this marine fish that feels at home in tropical and subtropical waters does not fly – it glides with the use of its powerful pectoral fins or wings. It can soar to as high as 20 feet above the water surface and accounts saysome land on ships’ decks.

A flying fish usually leaps out of the water when being pursued by predators such as swordfish, dolphins, porpoises, tuna, marlin, squids, and even birds. In turn, it feeds on small crustaceans and planktonic animals.

This fish has an enlarged lower tail lobe that can enable it to swim more than 70 kilometers per hour. Its tail can move 70 times per second.

The fish can grow to as long as 45 centimeters (about two feet).

It belongs to the family of marine creatures called Erocostidae. There are 64 species of them grouped in seven to nine genera.

Wikipedia notes that flying fish are commercially harvested in Indonesia and India by dipnetting and in Japan, Vietnam, and Barbados by gillnetting.

Batanes fishermen catch them with the use of various types of nets.

They are fished when there is no moonlight but with the fishermen using torches to attract them, retired U.P. Los Baños professor Dr. Dante B. de Padua, an internationally acclaimed postharvest scientist, told us.

Born in Basco, the Batanes capital town, Dr. de Padua said the fish are plenty from March to May.

As a young boy, he recalled, he used to go to the shore when the fishermen returned home from the sea and, together with some other Basco villagers, helped in hauling the harvest and cleaning the nets. In return, they were rewarded with some of the catch.

Batanes people, who are officially called Ivatas, have mastered the culinary art of preparing several menus out of flying fish.

During our recent five-day sojourn in Batanes, we feasted on “kilawing FF” dished out by our hosts, accountant Julius Baronia and wife Elizabeth, Agnes, and cousin Pinky.

“Sinigang na FF” was also good, and so was the fried version.

Summer is when flying fish business in Batanes becomes brisk.

With abundant supply, the local fisherfolk and businessmen come out with the “day-old FF” or just caught, deboned, cut, and packed in plastic. A kilo of “day-old FF” cuts in plastic costs up to P100.

For longer shelf life, a flying fish is dried under the sun.

In Japanese cuisine, the fish is often preserved by drying. The roe (egg of the Japanese fling fish is used to make some types of sushi known as tobiko.

It is also a staple in the diet of the Tao people of Orchid Island, Taiwan. Interestingly, the Batanes island group is nearer to Taiwan (190 kilometers) than to the Luzon mainland (280 km from Aparri, Cagayan).

Another “exotic” sea food that is one of Batanes’ comes-on is coconut crab which, as its name suggests, primarily feeds on coconut meat. Its pincers are so strong that these can open a coconut.

Coconut crab (scientific name: Birgus later, other names are palm thief and robber crab) is one of the most sought-after dishes in Batanes, whose seaside crevices and burrows are home to these big arthropods. A coco crab costs as much as P1,000 per kilo.

In sum, a visit to idyllic and now internationally known Batanes, which was finally brought under the Spanish Crown in 1782 by then Gov. Jose Basco, is not complete if your menu does not include flying fish and coconut crab.

And then you can sing to your heart’s content atop its vaunted high points: “The hills are alive with the sound and seas of Batanes.”

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