I was curious about suno. I heard about it in March when I was on the west coast of Palawan and now, here in June in one of Palawan’s island groups, I was hearing it again.
Cuyo is one of the richest fishing grounds in the Philippines. Here was my chance to interview the owner-operator of a suno buying station.
Suno is red grouper. As the photo below illustrates, the term really applies to grouper in any shade of red. Red is a color that is expected to bring luck.
I could have said that red is a lucky color but that expression misses the point. It’s not lucky in the Western sense (like in a lucky horseshoe). Instead Chinese culture expects the color to bring luck or good fortune. Red is expected to increase the odds of success. You’ve heard of Feng Shui, haven’t you?
The color red
In feng shui, the color red always signifies richness and luxury.
Every color affects ch’i energy differently, and because of this colors are believed to be related to yin-yang and the five elements. Color can be used to maintain, calm and enhance a specific ch’i energy. Red, for example, is the most yang color and is linked with fire energy and the ch’i energy of the west. Red is associated with romance, wealth, and happiness. These are three good reasons why the Chinese choose red for doors and entrance arches.
Enjoying a red grouper at a business meal is an auspicious way to carry on a business transaction. But then so is anything you wish to endow with romance, wealth, and happiness, right? In other words, a red grouper is welcome at any meal.
In Hong Kong, I was told, Philippine suno currently sells for the equivalent of 4,500 Philippine pesos (HK$800) to restaurants.
What’s a grouper?
Grouper is a first-class fish. In Pilipino, grouper is called lapu-lapu <la-pu-la-pu>.
Groupers are one of many prized fish that we can catch along all coasts of Florida and the Bahamas. Hard fighting and good eating bottom fish, The Southeastern US particularly Florida Keys groupers provide the best grouper fishing in the world. Groupers are a firm, white meat fish that makes a spectacular onion-garlic sauté for your dinner table.
- Fishing is big in the state of Florida in the United States.
How important is grouper as a commercial product? Very. It’s the most important revenue earner for Palawan. The first 11 fishes in the poster above are groupers!
The suno operator I interviewed established himself in 2005. In June, he was buying suno from local fishermen at the rate of 2,400 pesos per kilo (US$55 per kilo equivalent to US$25 per pound).
Keep in mind that suno always refers to live fish. The chart indicates that live fish accounted for the majority of groupers that originated from Cuyo in recent years.
The average weight of a single suno is 745 grams (using 2007 data). Since we know the weight of the fish, we can estimate the number of fish that were harvested:
- 732,000 live red groupers were harvested between 2005 and 2009.
- In 2008, the peak year, nearly 550 live red groupers were harvested from Cuyo waters every single day.
That’s a lot of live groupers!
There are four suno buying stations in Cuyo. The man who owned one–the one I interviewed was bitter over the condition of the suno fish trade in Cuyo. He was sick of the corruption, he said. That was his beef. That was what he was angry about. For the longest time he had been paying 10,000 pesos a month to a public official in Cuyo, he alleged. His financials looked like this:
- Rent: 10,000
- Electricity: 18,000
- Corruption Fee: 10,000
Electricity was critical to his operation. He keeps two generator sets at the ready. The gen-sets are gas- or diesel-powered and generate electricity. Last year, he said, his sole gen-set malfunctioned and stopped operating in the early-morning. He woke up to 360,000 pesos worth of dead suno (about 150 pieces).
It wouldn’t have been a total loss. Dead suno changes categories and becomes known as fresh fish. It would have been frozen and sold in Manila. 😉
Suno-buying is a demanding business. He starts working shortly after he wakes up. He is particularly busy in the mornings for that is when fishermen who fished in the early-morning (4 to 6 a.m.) or all night (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) come in and sell him their catch.
Through that hole cut in the wall (above) were the holding pens.
New fish come in all the time. I interviewed him between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. During that period, men in tricycles would come in with one to three live fish.
Occasionally, the catch they brought in would consist of dead fish and dead fish is classified as fresh catch.
And where did he live? Not across the alley. That would have been too far.
Get this: the alley was only as wide as one car.
No, he lived in his Buying Station, on one side, in a segregated section. Now that’s a tough life. He was an outsider (his words) who came to Cuyo to engage in this business and he himself didn’t speak the Cuyonon language. He had a young wife–a native of Cuyo, a Cuyonon. She was his foot in the ground.
The four buying stations on the island share a critical resource, the small airplane–perhaps a Beechcraft or Cessna. The small plane is the resource that makes the business of live fish possible. They call it the fishplane.
Source of data
The posters and whiteboard were on the wall of the Cuyo office of the Bureau of Fisheries.
The frame grab below came from an informative video about suno.
The header image is the one at the top of the webpage that changes at random. Three of them were sliced from the original–the one below: