Monday, March 12, 2012

Dynamite island explodes myth about illegal fishing

From Malaya Insight: Dynamite island explodes myth about illegal fishing
CAUBIAN GAMAY, Lapu-Lapu City – Underwater explosions used to destroy the country’s only double barrier reef.

Today, seaweed farming is exploding the myth that dynamite fishing is here to stay.

Gilberto Alcoser, 34, was 13 years old when he started the deadly occupation of dynamite fishing. For seven years, he and his father would set out at sunrise to throw dynamites into the sea and catch fish, along the way blowing up coral reefs and seagrass beds that nurture the very marine life that sustains their livelihood.

They would be back in mid-morning after hauling on average 10 kilograms of fish of all kinds, even the immature ones that cannot be sold, earning P1,000 "if you’re lucky," he said.

"It was easy, all you had to do was throw and throw the dynamites," Alcoser told Malaya Business Insight. "Almost all the villagers here used to be dynamite fishers."

Many of them have since turned to alternative livelihoods, from seaweed farming to crab fishing to the tried-and-tested handline- and net-fishing.

Still, Alcoser said, "we have identified about 40 fisherfolks who continue the illegal practice."

It is still a lucrative trade, considering that a kilogram of explosives – about four dynamites – costs just P60 per stick.

Alcoser is among the 19 fish wardens, including five barangay police, who patrol in four motorized bancas part of the Danajon Bank located off northern Bohol and about an hour’s boat ride in calm seas and sunny weather from Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu’s Mactan Island.

The fish wardens guard the vast Minantaw Marine Park and Sanctuary, the country’s first multi-use marine park and sanctuary. It is the first and largest multi-use marine protected zone in the Visayas.

And it is the first to integrate a multi-use protected area with 62 hectares allotted for regulated fishing, 55 hectares for seaweed farming and 37 hectares for sustainable use; another 50 hectares is a strictly no-take zone where fishing is banned.

Minantaw is part of the Danajon double barrier reef, the only one in the Philippines and one of only three in the Indo-Pacific region. The reefs are all of 272 square kilometers spread below 40 islands with a coastline of 381 kilometers.

For all that, it is just 1 percent of the country’s coral reefs. Danajon is home to more than 200 species of corals, more than 500 species of fish and a vast seagrass bed which nurtures marine life.

It consists of three large reefs, among them Caubian, the biggest at 143 square kilometers, and partly near the adjacent Caubian Gamay and Caubian Dako, a resort island. There are five more smaller reefs in the northern outer region and one other large reef, Calituban, in the inner region in an area that touches Leyte.

All are within the jurisdiction of Lapu-Lapu City and 16 other towns in Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Southern Leyte.

For three years now, many of the 3,000 villagers in Caubian Gamay village has turned to seaweed farming for a living, said Deputy Fish Warden Mark Denola.

"We harvest every three months, on average about 400 kilograms each time," said Jackson Matbagon, Head Fish Warden. "Villagers sell the dried first class variety at P60 per kilogram and the second class varieties at P12 per kilogram."

Cebu’s seaweed industry in Cebu gets regular produce from Caubian. The resort in Caubian Dako employs islanders. Other resorts in nearby Olango Island get crabs from Caubian fishers. Tourists from Bohol and Cebu are frequent visitors.

Crab fishers place the nets at sea in mid-afternoon and each harvests about 2 kilograms at dawn the next morning, sais Alcoser, adding the crabs are sold at P160 per kilogram in Caubian, a price that is doubled in Lapu-Lapu city.

"At first, the villagers didn’t know traditional fishing methods like using handlines and nets, they were so used to dynamite fishing they didn’t know any other way to do it," Alcoser recalled. "Many found net fishing tiresome compared to the quick dynamite fising."

At any rate, Caubian Gamay villagers, once shunned, now have access to money lenders, although it is uncelar whether this is good or bad.

All these are part of a desperate effort to save the Dinajon Reef, including the establishment of the Minantaw Marine Park and Sanctuary, a joint project of Chevron Philippines, Project Seahorse Foundation for Marine Conservation, United Fishers of Caubian and the Lapu-Lapu City government.

The sanctuary is within the Danajon Bank, long a major fishing ground for thousands of fishers in Eastern Visayas. Since the 1950s, unregulated exploitation and the absence of conservation management severely degraded the reef.

"Before the sanctuary was established,illegal fishing activities – mostly dynamite fishing – was rampant in the area. Thesedestroyed coral reefs in Minantaw and within the Danajon Bank which naturally took 6,000 years in the making," said Angelie C. Nellas, Project Seahorse Senior Biologist. "The destruction was taking place right there in their own backyard."

"It led to the demise of the livelihood of Caubian Gamay Island," she pointed out . "Ironically, most of the illegal fishers during that time were from Caubian and other neighboring barangays."

Now, she said, small fishes of various fish families that were seemingly absent in our baseline surveys are seen in the shallow areas of the reef.

"First came the anchovies, then the bigger fish until the bigger ones started coming in," said Andy B. Berame, a member of the sanctuary’s management council. "The food chain has been re-established."

"This is the first marine park and sanctuary that we have put up. as coastal managers." said Rosemarie Apurado, a Social Development Officer of Project Seahorse, a successful and award winning effort to save seahorses that started in 1996 in Handumon, Bohol, and has since spread worldwide.

"We have observed the wide span of live corals being preserved and untouched while various sizes of fish has returned," said Dario Lumapas Jr., another former dynamite fisher now turned fish warden. "The presence of star fishes indicate that the water is clean and can harbor life once again."

The Minantaw Marine Park and Sanctuary will be open to the public starting this summer.

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