Round this time in Pias-Gaang in Currimao, Ilocos Norte before the coronavirus pandemic 2019, fishermen and hawkers as well as buyers of the goby fries locally called ipon would gather early on the shoreline.
Ipon belong to the tiny species of fish caught only in season, popular in Santa, Ilocos Sur south of here, and in Laoag City north of this coastal village, as well as in Aparri in Cagayan, where the Cagayan River empties into the Babuyan Channel.
They appear in the months of August, September, October, November, January to as late as the month of February.
A newly zygote fish, with the scientific name of Sycyopterus lachrymosus, measures about 1 inch in length and 1/4 inch in diameter.
According to ichthyologists, who specialize in the branch of zoology devoted to the study of fish, including bony fish (Osteichthyes), cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes), and jawless fish (Agnatha), the fish zygote is meroblastic, meaning the early cell divisions are not complete.
This type of meroblastic cleavage is called discoidal because only the blastodisc becomes the embryo. Fish embryos go through a process called mid-blastula transition which is observed around the tenth cell division in some fish species.
They are also called lunar fish because they only appear after counting 10 days from full moon. The fishermen can catch this fish from three to five days once in a month, making one harvest in the morning and another in the afternoon.
There are at least two fish tales, pun none, that a huge egg hatches in the middle of the water. Another is that it comes from the sea water to migrate into the river water and later on when it grows bigger it becomes the bukto, or bunog (goby fish)—popular among dwellers of the coastal communities of the rugged Ilocos coastline that stretches from Ilocos Norte down to the towns in Pangasinan just beyond the border of La Union.
This perhaps partly explains why the ipon are abundant in communities near river banks: Santa in Ilocos Sur has the 206-km long Abra River that empties into Luzon Bay, the 73-km Padsan or Laoag River in Ilocos Norte which empties too in the Luzon Bay, the 505-km Cagayan River that empties into the Babuyan Channel, and the 96-km long Amburayan River that originates from the Cordillera mountains and traverses the provinces of Benguet, La Union, and Ilocos Sur and empties into Luzon Bay.
Of course, there is the Currimao River north of here and a stream in this village that meanders through from Lang-ayan in the east to Anggapang westward to Pias-Gaang.
With the eased lockdown restrictions in October, few fishermen, eager to replenish their fishing baskets and nets with this autochthonous delicacy, have been reported spotted on some stretches of the shoreline that stretches from the Salugan side north of here in Currimao to Sadiay Baybay due south in Badoc, Ilocos Norte.
The day’s catch may not be as voluminous as those caught in Santa, well known for this fish species, only 69 kilometers due south, or those caught in the shoreline barangay of La Paz in Laoag, only 27 kilometers farther north, and 284 kilometers from here to yet another popular place—Aparri in Cagayan—for this species they call in that area ludong.
In October, many, including Nana Apit and Nana Bikang, prepared their bamboo baskets for the post-full moon catch, with the second full moon appearing on October 31, with fish they intend to sell in the inland town of Pinili.
Sometimes, non-Ilocanos, as those from the national capital, mistake ipon for their hipon or shrimp, the decapod crustaceans with elongated bodies and a primarily swimming mode of locomotion—most commonly Caridea and Dendrobranchiata, or the mobile savvy as the iPhone.
In Laoag previously, a kilo of ipon would have a price range of P300 to P400. Here, the price range is not far off the La Paz tag, but Ilocanos, who cook this or just squeeze some lemon or the indigenous dalayap, would have their appetite satisfied despite the seemingly extortionate price.
At times, they just have them steamed, eaten raw or the so-called kilawen with limitless sprinkling of onions, vinegar, and ginger, or do the Mexican cuisine torta with scrambled egg, paksiw with vinegar or the sukang Iloko, sinigang (ipon soup with tomatoes and ginger), adobo, or grilled ipon wrapped in banana leaf.
In Ilocos Sur, villagers cook it as tinubong—after sometime, they turn this into boggoong nga ipon (ipon fish paste).
There have been some who raise the red sign on eating raw ipon because, their thesis, eaters can catch the Paracapillaria philippinensis, which causes human intestinal capillarisis. Unlike C. hepatica, humans are most likely the main definitive host, with transmission occurring primarily through eating undercooked fish.
But Nana Apit and Nana Bikang swear none of their customers these many decades have gone to their final resting places because they relished at one point eating raw ipon.
And as the Ilocanos say, with a satisfied look in their profile, “Naimas ti ipon lokdit,” loosely translated as “Ipon is truly a delicacy,” with the added expression popular in many areas of the Ilocos and Cagayan.