Fish On

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By Roberto P. Alabado III

Planning Perspectives

Thursday, July 24, 2014

THESE past months, I have been pretty busy catching up on my dates with nature. The monotonous urban life sometimes screams its disconnection to the true world out there.

The sea beckons me to renew my ties with its elements. One of the most serene moments in my life was when I was fishing somewhere north of Samal. It was just the bangkero and I riding his small banca in the middle of the sea. He being busy steering the boat while burning his lungs with his cigarettes while I was busy trying to catch fish. From time to time, dolphins would pass by the banca, sea turtles swam lazily underneath us, sea snakes rose suddenly to keep a curious watch on us. It was so calm that we could even hear the sound of huge schools of fishes amassing under the waves.

Luckily, I caught some that I proudly showed to my mom who gladly cooked these for us. That is part of anglers’ ethics - you eat what you catch (except when I caught a puffer fish). My dad always teased me that the cost of my fishing expedition is waaaaay above the market price of the fishes I catch. The fresh sea air, peace of mind, lulling sounds of the sea, and the excitement of catching fish are priceless.


Seeing the dwindling resources of our Gulf, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has finally taken action by imposing a closed season in commercial fishing for about three months per year. The experience of Zamboanga and Visayan seas shows that when fishes are given enough time to spawn or lay their eggs, the fish catch of fishers in the next few months will increase. Scientific studies were conducted to determine which commercial fishes spawn during these months so now I hope that the prices of my favorite table fishes like matambaka, dalagangbukid and galunggong will be much lower because of more supply in the near future.

This policy should just be the beginning of regulations to replenish and rejuvenate the resources of our Gulf. Aside from closed seasons on fishing, perhaps BFAR can now explore regulating the sizes of the fish catches maybe strictly enforce these if already existing. Just visit your local palengke and you can see the indiscriminate selling of juvenile fishes. There must be proper sizing of fish catch to ensure that only the adult fishes are caught and sold in our markets. If the size of the catch is below standard then the fisher has to throw the fish back alive and any market vendor caught selling undersized fishes will be penalized by the LGU or BFAR or DTI.

With the closed season plus the minimum size policies, we can ensure that fishes reach their sexual maturity so that they can really reproduce. So how about it BFAR? The closed season will have limited impact if juvenile fishes are still indiscriminately caught and sold. What is the use of the closed season when there are just a few matured fishes left to reproduce?

It will take a number of policies that work together to ensure the sustainability of our fish population.

While we are at it, the siltation of rivers emptying into the Gulf is worsening; the coral reefs and sea grasses where many fishes breed are slowly being covered by silt. This kills the corals and seagrasses leaving poor Nemo and Dugong with no more shelter and foraging grounds.

So, not only BFAR should step up in protecting the Gulf but also DENR. Massive reforestation efforts must be made to slow down the rate of soil erosion in the agriculture, shorelines and forestlands. Mangrove forests should be established to protect our shorelines as well as trap sediments from smothering our coral reefs. What is the use of the closed season in fishing if the breeding grounds of fishes are covered with mud and algae?

Hmmm, agriculture? Fishers are complaining that agro-chemicals from farms and industrial crop plantations alike are destroying the breeding grounds of fishes along the shorelines. They cite that fingerlings along the shorelines have all but disappeared when massive agricultural development occurred in their areas. Perhaps, the DA people should diligently inspect and monitor if the plantations are really abiding by the strict regulations on installing and managing proper waste water disposal systems. Their run-off must be stored in holding ponds for a period of time to allow the neutralization of chemicals they use in their plantations. What is the use of a closed season if fingerlings succumb to the chemicals along the shores?

While I cited government agencies that are supposed to regulate the actions of the people, we must not count out the responsibility of the local government units, private corporations and individuals to ensure that regulations are followed and enforced.

We anglers practice ethics (like throwing back undersized fishes) in our recreation because we love fishing and will do all means possible to ensure that our children will still enjoy fishing in the Gulf.

Somewhere in the Gulf, we are establishing a fishing village of some sort. We have partnered with a local fishing community to accommodate recreational fishers or anglers. The community has set up payaos for line fishing only and that is well-suited for recreational fishing. They will manage and protect their resources so that anglers or recreational fishers can enjoy the sport and recreation. With the banca rentals, users fees and fishing guide fees, a local fisher can earn more than spending hours chasing fish.

We anglers would like to do our share by creating a model to show that ecotourism by way of recreational fishing can enhance our coastal and marine resources and be profitable for the host community.

Transforming our over-fished Davao Gulf into a more productive and sustainable fishing ground will entail not only a closed season on fishing but more policies to complement it. BFAR cannot do it alone but DENR and DA will have to do their share to enforce policies improve the marine environment.

Sometimes, large-scale efforts take a lot of time and money just to see an improvement in the vast Gulf resource. Perhaps, if each one of us will make a small effort to change our destructive ways like reducing our usage of plastics and household chemicals, regularly cleaning our septic tanks as well as refraining from buying juvenile fishes maybe perhaps we can see a healthy Davao Gulf within our lifetime.

Tight lines everyone.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 24, 2014.


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