Back in the 1960s when this writer was still a young boy, his mother would take him along at daybreak on the forty or so minute ride to Lemery from Lipa aboard those rickety old BLTBCo or United buses just so she could purchase among her favorite fishes – the “muslo.” Just salted and grilled over embers of charcoal, or perhaps cooked with broth either as “kinamatisan” [literally, with tomatoes] or sinigang [a stew soured often using tamarind], the muslo was – indeed – quite divine.
Fast forward to 2012 and this same writer, over lunch of “sinigang na maliputo” in Taal with native Taaleño hosts, asked them how the “maliputo” was different from the “muslo” and if the latter was still available in the market. These locals, to this writer’s surprise, were not really sure what the “muslo” was.
Turning to the Internet for clarification, this writer encountered a couple of somewhat dubious “explanations.” One article said that since the “maliputo” was a migratory fish, if it was caught in the Pansipit River, it was called “muslo.” Another said that “muslo” was just how the very same “maliputo” was known in Lemery, the town right next to Taal.
Both explanations, as it happened, were confused and untrue; albeit, the confusion probably stemmed from the fact that the two fishes belong to the caranx genus of the carangidae family commonly “known as jacks, trevallies and kingfishes1.” In other words, they look similar.
The “maliputo” carries the scientific name caranx ignobilis and is known commonly in English as the giant trevally2. This fish can thrive in both marine (saltwater) and freshwater environments. In the Philippines, the marine version, called “talakitok” in Tagalog, can be also found in Pagbilao Bay, the Calamianes Islands, Davao Gulf, the Sulu-Celebes Sea and the Spratly Islands3.
|The maliputo, scientific name caranx ignobilis. By Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR - http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/reef0735.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2114432.|
The freshwater giant trevally, in particular, that which lives in the waters of Taal Lake called “maliputo,” breeds and spawns in the estuarine waters where Balayan Bay meets the Pansipit River. It grows up to about three kilos and then migrates upstream along the river in search of freshwater4. When ready to breed, it returns to the waters where it was born.
The “muslo,” meanwhile, has the scientific name caranx sexfasciatus and is known in English as the bigeye trevally5. It looks a lot like the “Maliputo” if with a slightly more ovoid head. Like its cousin, the giant trevally, the “muslo” can be found over a wide range of tropical waters from the Pacific to the Indian Oceans.
|The muslo, scientific name caranx sexfasciatus. By Zsispeo - Caranx sexfasciatus, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11529507.|
While basically a marine fish, the “muslo” prefers to live in reefs closer to shore, and often ventures into estuaries6 or where rivers empty into the open sea. This fish has also been known to swim all the way up to Taal Lake. Its fingerlings, locally known as “pepikat,” migrated to the lake all year round7. A paper published in a 1990 edition of the Philippine Journal of Fisheries noted that it was caught in fish corrals in San Nicolas and Agoncillo8.
At the time the paper was published, the “maliputo” was probably already the preferred fish, with production from the fish corrals as high as 78% of the catch. The muslo was a measly 15%, although the much smaller production could have been due to a range of factors from price to the depletion of fish stocks. That it was being overfished was known even early in the American era.
That “maliputo” production was greater than the “muslo” was not always the case. At the dawn of the American colonial era, the latter was considered the most important fish among those caught in the corrals both along the Pansipit River and Taal Lake. The “maliputo” was ranked only second. An iconic fish of the lake in the present day, the freshwater sardinella tawilis, ranked a mere sixth9.
By 2017, the sardinella tawilis was ranked top in terms of output or catch among the major fishes caught in Taal Lake. The “maliputo” had dropped to fifth while the “muslo” did not even make it to the top ten. Unfortunately, the “maliputo” has already been classified as “rare10” in recent years, if not yet endangered.
As for the “muslo,” there is not even enough literature over the Internet to discern why it has for all intents and purposes dropped out of the public’s consciousness. It is very telling that there are those in Taal who are not even certain what it is. Perhaps, over the decades, people’s preferences simply changed.
Notes and references:1 “Caranx,” Wikipedia.
2 “Caranx ignobilis (Forsskål, 1775),” online at the Fish Database, Academia Sinica, Taiwan.
3 “Secrets of the Maliputo (Talakitok),” by Patricia Vega, published 27 November 2017, online at the Animal Scene.
4 Vega, ibid.
5 “Status of Taal Lake Fishery Resources with Emphasis on the Endemic Freshwater Sardine, Sardinella tawilis (Herre, 1927),” by Maria Theresa M. Mutia, Myla C. Muyot, Francisco B. Torres, Jr., and Charice M. Faminialagao, published 2018 in The Philippine Journal of Fisheries.
6 “Bigeye trevally,” Wikipedia.
7 “The Fisheries of Lake Taal, Pansipit River, and Balayan Bay, Batangas Province, Luzon,” by Deogracias V. Villadolid, published 1906 in the Philippine Journal of Science, p. 192.
8 “Survey of Migratory Fishes in Pansipit River and Taal Lake,” by Eliadora C. Mercene and Aida R. Alzona, published 1990 in the Philippine Journal of Fisheries.
9 Villadolid, op cit. p. 196.
10 “The Unique Maliputo,” originally published in the Manila Bulletin.