CEBU -- An offer of free dried fish made a Capitol task force so suspicious that they ended up intercepting a truckload of endangered helmet and triton shells, a shipment that could be worth millions.
Two men were arrested and will be charged with violating the Fisheries Code, after the operation by the Cebu Anti-illegal Fishing Task Force at 12:25 p.m. Wednesday in Minglanilla town.
Authorities could not say yet how many shells were confiscated. But once cleaned, polished and shipped to the United States or Europe, each helmet or “budyong” shell could fetch as much as US$5,000, said Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource (BFAR) commercial licensing officer Auster Cabangbang.
A team led by task force chief Loy Madrigal unloaded and inspected more than 50 cartons, each with six to eight shells inside, and 20 sacks with smaller smooth-top shells.
Dried fish offer
Madrigal said he wanted to make sure that there was no other contraband or drugs inside the cargo.
Madrigal said that when the team stopped the truck, its crew said they were only carrying dried fish. But when the task force asked to see the truck’s load, the two men instead offered them a plastic container full of dried fish.
Madrigal, who is also the Capitol’s chief security officer, immediately handcuffed Delfin Jakosalem, 45, and his driver Rommel Tumakas, 32, when he opened the truck and saw the endangered shells.
As this developed, Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza said that the City Government was planning to come up with an ordinance banning any activities that involve shark meat.
Last week, the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office intercepted a vehicle loaded with 1,650 kilos of frozen shark meat in Sitio Fire Crash, Barangay Bankal in Lapu-Lapu City. These were supposed to be delivered from Marigondon to Pasil, where Cebu City’s main fish market is located.
In yesterday’s operation, the truck’s registration papers, Madrigal said, revealed that the truck belonged to Estanislao Pepito of Barangay Sawang Calero in Cebu City.
Jail, plus fine of P120T
BFAR’s Cabangbang said the mere possession of these endangered shells violates Section 97 of Republic Act 8550 or the Fisheries Code of 1998, which carries an imprisonment of 12 to 20 years and fine of P120,000 for those found guilty.
The section refers to the CITES or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, where helmet shells and triton or trumpet shells are listed as endangered.
Madrigal said it was their first operation that yielded endangered shells.
The closed cargo truck, which can hold as much as a 40-foot cargo container, was marked “Fish Dealer” on its side. It had traveled all the way from Dapitan City in Zamboanga del Norte and crossed aboard a ship to Bato in Samboan, Cebu.
Jakosalem said they were only told to bring the “dried fish” to Barangay San Roque in Talisay City and someone was supposed to meet them there.
He said he and Tumakas stayed in a hotel while the truck was being loaded, so they did not really know what they were transporting to Cebu.
The cargo truck is now inside the Capitol compound, its cargo unloaded and the suspects held at the Capitol security office.
As to Lapu-Lapu’s plan, the mayor said the proposal to ban the use of shark meat was provoked by the recent confiscation of a cargo that was initially believed to be meat from thresher and whale sharks.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources 7 later said that the flesh actually came from gummy sharks, which are not considered endangered species.
“But, sooner or later, what will happen is that is all kinds of shark would be banned kay murag nagnihit na ba (their population is dwindling),” Radaza said.
She said the City Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council is acting on the plan, while the City Environment and Natural Resources has also been monitoring these activities.
Two weeks ago, another truck loaded with thresher shark meat was intercepted in the City of Naga by the Capitol’s anti-illegal fishing task force. It was reported that the fish meat was to be used as an ingredient in making tempura and fish balls in Lapu-Lapu. (OCP/FMG)