BFAR brings forth ‘red pacu’ as edible treat


DAGUPAN CITY—The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has introduced “red pacu,” an exotic aquarium fish, as an edible variety that could also help in controlling the growth of water hyacinths that clog rivers.

The BFAR research center here on Wednesday held a cooking festival that featured recipes of red pacu, locally known as “tambaqui,” as part of the activities for the fishery week celebration.

Westly Rosario, BFAR center chief, said red pacu (Colossoma bidens), a native of the Amazon River in South America, was introduced in the Philippines as an aquarium fish.

He said red pacu is an herbivorous species and farmers can raise these by feeding them with grass, gabi or malunggay leaves, flowers and plants, including those rejected by carabaos, and even leftovers.

“It is easy to breed and easy to grow. And since it eats anything, we can produce fish protein without the expensive commercial feed. This is a good alternative to bangus (milkfish), which is expensive to produce as 60 percent of the expenses [go to] commercial feed,” he said.

Among the dishes prepared from red pacu were sisig, kilawin, caldereta, kare-kare and even burger. There were also steamed pacu with lemongrass, “pacurry” (red pacu curry), red pacu in chili tomato sauce, Hawaiian red pacu pizza, pan de pacu, pacu-loco wrapped in taro leaves and red pacu pastel.

Rosario said the fish could be introduced in rivers to control water hyacinths as it could eat the water plants that clog waterways and cause flooding.

“We gathered water hyacinths in a river and put them in a pond. After a week, all the hyacinths were gone, eaten by the fish,” he said.

The BFAR said red pacu can grow to .75 meter long (2.46 feet) in the wild.

However, tests showed the red pacu did not reproduce in captivity and had to be injected with hormones to enable them to breed.

Nevafe Muyalde, BFAR researcher on the species, said several trials were conducted to make the fish reproduce but it was only through hormonal injections that red pacu was able to produce eggs.

The breeding of red pacu at the BFAR center started five years ago when a private collector donated 10 pieces of the fish.

Rosario said a kilogram of red pacu can grow to a foot long in a year. “It is best eaten at year old because its flesh becomes hard when it becomes older,” he said.

Except for its teeth structure, the red pacu closely resembles the highly carnivorous piranha.

“This is why it was difficult to import red pacu because it looked like piranha, which is banned in the Philippines,” Rosario said. He said the red pacu’s teeth are not sharp and pointed like those of the piranha’s. Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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  • Anonymous

    Hooray, finally the BFAR has found a solution to the clogging of rivers and creeks by water hyacinths. But on the other hand, these water lilies can be used as raw materials for quality handicrafts that can be exported. The TESDA or DTI must do something to train individuals on how to make use of these plants, which are believed to causing inundation in most parts of Luzon. The red pacu species will also serve as a delectable recipe in the kitchen.

  • Loggnat

    ‘As tropical fish, pacu will die in cold weather; as newcomers to an
    ecosystem, pacu may out-compete native species for available food,
    habitat, and other resources, or displace them by introducing exotic
    parasites or diseases. Most wildlife resource authorities prohibit
    releasing exotic fish, including pacu, into the wild.’ from Wikipedia. Do you really want this fish introduced to the Philippine rivers and lakes?

    ‘He ( Westly Rosario, BFAR center chief) said the red pacu’s teeth are not sharp and pointed like those of the piranha’s.’ According to Wikipedia “While they are not aggressive carnivores like the piranha, their crushing jaw system, used primarily for eating seeds and nuts, can be hazardous. One toddler needed surgery after a pacu (misreported as a piranha) bit her finger at Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World in Scotland. Commenting on the incident, Deep Sea World zoological manager Matthew Kane warned “Pacus will eat anything, even children’s wiggling fingers.”[5]
    Another such incident occurred when a 60 cm (24-inch) Pacu (named Pacu)
    jumped out of his tank in Fort Worth, TX and bit the nose of his owner. Here’s another reason why not. :))

  • Kenneth S.

    According to the report: “Aquaculture In Papua New Guinea Status of freshwater fish farming” (2007) by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the Red Pacu (C. bidens) released into the Sepik River in the mid 1990’s have become an invasive species. From an herbivore they have become fish/flesh eaters. Anecdotal evidence from local people indicates that the introduced Pacu have decimated the once prosperous Tilapia fishery by  feeding on its fry. Incidents of human attacks have also been reported. Full report at

    The show Animal Planet has featured the Red Pacu in Papua New Guinea as a “River Monster” For the story and link to videos go to

    Video of Pacu chasing then eating feeder goldfish

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