Fish growers lose thousands in 'red tide'

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Friday, April 11, 2014


FISH growers in Northern Mindanao region have been losing thousands of pesos in investment as massive fish kill brought by the harmful algal bloom (HAB) since it was first reported on March 26.

The losses in the fish farms in Balingasag town, Misamis Oriental have already reached more than half a million pesos, said Asuncion Maputol, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR-10) assistant regional director during a press briefing Thursday afternoon.

Balingasag has been known for growing caged saltwater milkfish (‘bangus’) supplying not only northern Mindanao but also the other areas of the country.

As of April 10, BFAR-10 recorded some 45,594 pieces of bangus—from fingerlings to those ready for harvest and are placed in 20 cages—which died due to the fish kill, Maputol said.

The dead fish were already buried as these had spoiled and were no longer fit for human consumption, she said.

As of Thursday, Maputol said BFAR-10 received a report that HAB was no longer spotted in the coastal area off Balingasag and that the bangus sold in the markets are safe to eat as long as these are freshly harvested and did not die due to HAB.

“In fact, fish growers in Balingasag have been busy harvesting their caged stocks,” she said.

In Misamis Occidental, however, the report of fish kill is reported in many towns like Tudela, Oroquieta city, Plaridel, Baliangao, and Lopez Jaena.

Even before BFAR-10 noticed the algal bloom in Iligan Bay, Murcielagos Bay in Misamis Occidental had already been infected before the March 26 incident (fish kill) in Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Visa Dimerin, BFAR-10 regional director, said.

‘Rusty looking’ sea

The municipality of Sapang Dalaga, in Misamis Occidental, reported fish growers saying tens of thousands of their stocks were dying by the day, Dimerin added.

Dimerin said they (fish growers) thought that the stocks were just of low quality bangus.

But BFAR-10 confirmed the fish kill incidents has been due to the HAB when fisherfolk noted that the area fronting the Murcielagos Bay, which is the Mindanao Sea, was “rusty-looking.”

Last Wednesday and well into Thursday, fishermen in Danao Bay in Misamis Occidental also saw fish about a hundred kilos floating dead but these are not the caged variety, but the “bottom dwellers,” Dimerin said.

She added fishery technicians were in Danao Bay to assess the damage of the fish kill.

Maputol said BFAR-10 could not offer solution to this aquatic phenomenon but only to issue advisories and tell fish farmers to harvest their stocks before the HAB strikes again.

She said the caged fish are the most vulnerable to the HAB infection since they cannot escape.

Fish infected with HAB are deprived of oxygen causing their death.

In its advisory, BFAR-10 said “the water samples collected for plankton determination from areas of discoloration and analyzed by BFAR revealed the presence of ‘Cochlodinium polykrikoides’ that cause [HAB].”

Not poisonous

“These species caused fish mortality or ‘fish kills’ but they do not produce toxins that can cause poisoning syndromes in human beings,” it said.

The advisory added: “The public is advised to refrain from eating dead fish obtained from areas covered by the discolored water. Fish is safe for human consumption provided they are fresh; their gills, guts and viscera are removed and thoroughly washed before cooking.”

“Swimmers and scuba divers are likewise advised to avoid body contact with the water in areas the discoloration occurs,” it furthered.

Rey Eduard Hojas, BFAR-10 regional fish health officer, said the microorganism in HAB is not toxic to humans, but it’s best to stay away from the algal bloom when taking a swim.

Hojas said these algal blooms are usually found in the deep, but so far no one has been reported of being hospitalized for drinking seawater contaminated with HAB.

Eating dead fish may be caused by other bacteria causing food poisoning or discomfort to the person who consumes it, he added.

Hospitalized

Dimerin said on Wednesday, a fishery expert in Baliangao, saw scores of fish floating in the sea overnight. He picked the dead fish and gave them to neighbors who washed them thoroughly and cooked them.

Dimerin said the neighbors who cooked the dead fish were fine, the fishery expert, confident the fish were not toxic ate them raw (kinilaw). Now he is in the hospital.

Hojas said HAB is caused mainly by the increase in temperature and water salinity, and high nutrients such as phosphate, nitrite and nitrate, and phosphorous.

He said high nutrients could be due to agricultural runoff of fertilizers from farmlands.

The summer heat could also be a triggering factor that caused the HAB, Hojas added.

Hojas said HAB is found in patches and their reddish brown color could be mistaken for an oil spill.

“We have no control of it (HAB), we don’t know long it will last, but we hope it will get carried away from the region,” Maputol said, adding that the only assistance BFAR could give to fish farmers are the distribution of seedlings to the affected investors. (With Richel V. Umel – Correspondent)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 11, 2014.

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