Wild fish losses

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Friday, March 27, 2015


REGIONAL Development Council-6 Chair and Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. last week has waxed nostalgic by stressing that “our marine resources were once the richest in the world. If you combine our agriculture, forestry, and mineral resources they cannot surpass the potential of our marine resources.”

In 2015, however, he took a different take. “But sad to say we are destroying it in the form of dynamite fishing and other illegal activities,” Marañón bewailed.

He called the attention of local officials to give priority to the issue, particularly the Visayan Sea. The Visayan Sea is a rich fishing ground for fishing communities in Iloilo and Negros Occidental as well as in Cebu and Masbate.

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Late last year, Visayan governors and mayors approved a petition asking President Benigno Aquino to declare and establish as a protected area the waters beyond the 15-kilometer municipal waters for the towns and cities surrounding the Visayan Sea. Commercial fishing destroys coral reefs, seagrass and other fishery marine habitats to the prejudice of the Filipinos and to the Visayans in particular.

I cannot imagine a Visayas without its wild fish stocks. When it rains, it pours – with bad news. Last year, National Stock Assessment Program Visayan Sea project leader Prudencio Belga Jr. said the exploitation rate of commercial fisheries in the area has surpassed the exploration ratio of 50 percent, the threshold at which commercial dominant marine fish stock can recoup from natural deaths and death by fishing.
The fish population in the Visayan Sea, one of the country’s major fishing grounds, has been exploited 70 percent beyond its capacity to replenish, threatening not just the livelihood of thousands of fisherfolk but also the country’s food security.

The situation is so alarming that Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcalá warned in 2012 that “the Philippines will have to import fish sooner or later due to the declining fish catch in the country.”

If we lose our natural wild fish stocks, the Visayans, including the Negrenses, will have to rely on aquaculture. To the less technically inclined, aquaculture is called fish farms or fish ponds, what we call punong here in Negros Occidental. A key fish staple from punongs is milkfish (bangrus).

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization noted that milkfish farming
for a long time depended totally on natural food. Sometime in the mid-1950s, intensive milkfish farming started in Negros Occidental. Where there’s intensive fish farming, feeds are not far behind.

Until recently, noted FAO, aquaculture feeds have been considered a minor sub-sector of the feedmilling industry. Fish consumption is touted as “the last wild meal in the human diet,” the “poor guy’s source of protein.”

However, today the production of fish feeds is the fastest growing feed market. However, the nutritional benefits of fish are greatly decreased when it’s farmed.

Wild fish get their Omega-3’s from aquatic plants. Farmed fish like milkfish, however, are often fed corn, soy, or other feedstuffs that contain little or no Omega-3s. This unnatural, high-corn diet also means some farmed fish accumulate unhealthy levels of the wrong fatty acids. Further, farmed fish are routinely dosed with antibiotics, which can cause antibiotic-resistant disease in humans.

To fight diseases and parasites infecting their economic units, operators fight back by dumping concentrated antibiotics and other chemicals into the water. Such toxins damage local ecosystems in ways scientists are just beginning to understand. One study found that a drug used to combat sea lice kills a variety of non-target marine invertebrates, travels up to half a mile, and persists in the water for hours.

Sooner than later, it will be fish that Visayans will be eating. We will all have to learn to bite the bullet when wild fish is gone.*

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(bqsanc@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 27, 2015.

Opinion

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