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FEATURE: A’ as in Aramang

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If it’s aramang, it must be Aparri.
By Benjie S. De Yro
Published: September 10, 2016 2:34 PM

From its role as an important and integral part of the Aparriano diet to today’s exportable shrimp paste, Cagayan’s famous aramang (Nepatopalaemon tenuipes) or spider shrimp ,a soft-shelled species uniquely endowed to Aparri, certainly has swam its way to international cuisine.

In fact, like the name of its festival in May, aramang has become the undisputed One Town, One Product of the town, a tourism icon. If it’s aramang, it must be Aparri.

The aramang of Aparri, thus Cagayan, is easily distinguishable from other shrimp species by its color and size. While fishing is a major economic activity, it is during the months of August to Decembers that aramang forms a conspicuous aggregate along the shore, and are fished on a large scale at the mouth of the Cagayan River.

Observed seasonality of catching is due to water turbidity as a result of the download cascading of water along the Cagayan River and its tributaries to the sea, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. This is triggered by heavy monsoon rains and weather disturbances.

The ever-increasing demand for aramang is primarily due to its gustatory taste. BFAR director Miles Morales said aramang could be easily prepared in a variety of ways such as fritter ( ukoy), fried of simply cooked dry.

It can be made into bagoong aramang (shrimp paste) using salt as preservative. The bagoong aramang has been declared as an excellent appetizer taken with fresh Super Manila and the other Philippine mango varieties. It is an indispensable kare-kare ingredient.

Sun-dried aramang is a favorite and preferred flavoring in mixed vegetable cooking among the Ilocano’s ‘dingdeng’ and Ibanag’s ‘inabraw’ in Cagayan because of its unique taste and natural flavoring.

“It is at its best, though, when served as ‘kilawen(raw) aramang,” Tolentino “Leny” Versoza of Versoza’s Hotel, said.

In order to cope up with the high demand for fresh and dried aramang, fishermen and those engaged in the industry have intensified and upgraded their catching and processing skills and expertise. Former Mayor Ismael Tumaru claimed that many Aparrianos have earned fortunes by engaging in the trade.

BFAR said countless folks and enterprising individuals have benefitted economically from such bounty either as capitalists, small-scale buying and selling entrepreneurs or hired workers in the gathering and processing of aramang.

A few years ago, Aparri-based Criselda’s Food Products employed more than 50 workers in the business. Criselda’s processes and exported the shrimp paste from aramang. Through the assistance of the Department of Science and Technology and the local government unit, dried aramang has become a valuable commodity for exports to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the Middle East and other countries.

Suddenly, without the Aparrianos noticing it, the shrimp species has become a multi-million peso industry.

However, environmentalists and conservationists were alarmed over a method of catching aramang as employed by the fisherfolk.

They observed that to increase their catch, the fishermen use a specialized motorized boat with a technological advanced fishing gear and other paraphernalia locally known as ‘bannuar’. Thus, catching aramang emploVying this method has been termed as ‘agbannuar.

But the method, BFAR insisted, is dangerous as even the mature and gravid (those which lay eggs) aramang at the bottom of the sea are caught.

Realizing the possible loss of a livelihood among residents if the practice goes unabated, the local government spearheaded a move to regulate aramang fishing through local ordinances.

In return, the gatherers came up with a gentlemen’s agreement, an unwritten rule, that they only gather aramang during sunny weather to avoid spoilage, and at daytime, when the species is non gravid. Also, aramang should only be gathered when there is a great demand for export.

Once described by the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Council as the most delicious of all aramang species in the country, the aramang of Aparri will continue to be part of our palate.

So the next time you order your favorite kare-kare here or overseas, chances are, the shrimp paste used might have come from Aparri. TNF

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