Emerging from El Niño

Davao fisherfolk anticipate a turnaround from the dry season’s challenges
BANGUS BOUNTY.  South Davao Fisherfolks Federation, Inc. members joyfully reel in their plentiful catch in Punta Dumalag, Matina Aplaya, Davao City, celebrating a successful harvest and grateful for the sustenance it brings to their families and communities
BANGUS BOUNTY. South Davao Fisherfolks Federation, Inc. members joyfully reel in their plentiful catch in Punta Dumalag, Matina Aplaya, Davao City, celebrating a successful harvest and grateful for the sustenance it brings to their families and communitiesARJOY CENIZA

Better days are here again for Erwin Villas, a fisherman for 27 years, as the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) announced the start of the rainy season on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, promising a bountiful catch for him.

With the recent onset of rains, the 45-year-old Villas netted a catch of 15 kilograms on his latest fishing trip — a stark contrast to his usual one to two kilograms in March and April when high temperatures prevailed.

Menos gyud to. Gamay ra'g kuha tong grabe ang init, usahay wala'y madala sa balay. Giinitan pud siguro ang mga isda. Unya giputol ang akong pasol, ang term namo bukol. Karon nga tig-ulan, naa nay isda nga madala sa panimalay.

(The catch was low during those hot months, sometimes leaving me with nothing to bring home. The fish might have also felt the heat. I even suffered losses)," Villas, who started fishing at age 18, told SunStar Davao in an interview.

He incurred losses from spending on gasoline and fish bait, such as bilong-bilong (Chabita/moonfish) or tamban (Sardinella).

During those lean months, Villas took on side jobs as a tricycle driver or a construction worker to feed his family of five. He has three children. 

In Talomo coastal waters, he could catch bilong-bilong (Chabita/moonfish), moro-moro (Shortfin scad), karabalyas (Indian mackerel), sapsap (small flat fish/ponyfish), tabas, tanguigue (Spanish mackerel), liplipan (sailfish), and diwit (cutlass fish/hairtail).

"Ug swertehon, bariles ang makuha. Dako-dako gyud akong mauli sa balay nga kita, naay P20,000. Pero ug gagmay nga isda, naa sa P400 to P700. Katong grabe ang init, lugi gyud kaayo ko (If I get lucky, I catch tuna, earning around P20,000. But if I catch only small fish, I get P400 to P700. During those hot months, I just suffered losses)," he added.

However, he said his regular earnings still don't suffice for their needs.

Igo ra gyud na mapalit ug bugas ug gasolina para pagsunod managat, basin swertehon na. Kulang gyud kay dili pirmente ang pagkuha sa isda. Kung walay makuha nga isda, mao nang mag-drive ko ug magtrabaho maski ug bisan unsa lang basta legal.

(It’s just enough to buy rice and fuel for my next fishing trip, hoping I'll get lucky. It's not always easy to catch fish. If there's no fish, I drive or work any job as long as it's legal)," Villas added.

He goes fishing four times a week, starting at 4 a.m. If the catch is good, he can return home by 9 a.m. However, if the fish are scarce, he might not return until the afternoon.

SEA HUSTLE.  In Agdao, Davao City, fishermen brave the open waters, chasing the day's catch to provide for their family's daily needs. Despite losses incurred during the dry conditions of El Niño, hopes are high for a turnaround as the rainy season sets in.
SEA HUSTLE. In Agdao, Davao City, fishermen brave the open waters, chasing the day's catch to provide for their family's daily needs. Despite losses incurred during the dry conditions of El Niño, hopes are high for a turnaround as the rainy season sets in. ARJOY CENIZA

El Niño impact and mitigations

During the DA Agribiz Media Forum in April 2022, the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Bfar) Davao Region discussed the effects of the El Niño phenomenon, including fish kills due to decreased dissolved oxygen caused by an increase in plankton; red tide caused by a rise in poisonous dinoflagellates; coral bleaching, which leads to the death or destruction of reefs; and rising sea temperatures and salinity that stress fish, promoting disease, particularly in bangus (milkfish) and tilapia. These factors also lower fish survival rates and limit their growth, particularly affecting seaweeds with ice-ice disease.

As of May 17, Bfar-Davao reported no toxic red tide in the region. The agency also noted that no fish kills were reported as of May 29, 2024.

However, "There are reports of fish mortalities in Davao City, Davao de Oro, and Davao del Sur due to management challenges faced by operators," Bfar-Davao said.

According to a May 29 post on the BFAR Central Office Facebook page, the agency conducted monthly monitoring of the El Niño Action Plan. In April 2024, the bureau conducted a total of 1,174 monitoring, control, and surveillance activities. Additionally, they carried out various information campaigns through print materials distribution and awareness campaigns via radio broadcasts and social media posts. Preparedness efforts included holding 11 stakeholder consultations, conducting 30 training workshops, and providing 1,944 technical assistance sessions.

Bfar distributed 1,546 environmentally friendly fishing gears, 18.05 million fingerlings/ seed stock, 103,330 broodstocks, and 60 seaweed farm implements to enhance production in less vulnerable areas.

“Damages and losses in the fisheries sector have been observed due to the El Niño phenomenon. As of May 10, 2024, reported damages and losses amounted to P61.64 million, affecting 3,086 fisherfolk in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Regions 1, 2, 5, and 6,” the Bfar Central Office stated. However, the PSA reported that the total production volume for the aquaculture sub-sector generally posted positive growth in the past three quarters.

In Davao City, City Agriculturist's Office (CAgrO) head Edgardo Haspe said the city's fish industry was not severely impacted during the dry conditions caused by the El Niño phenomenon.

"Dili man kaayo ana ang impact sa atong fishery. Wala man ta ka experience og drought, dry conditions ra. Kung naa may epekto, dili sad ingon ana ka dako (The impact on our fishery is not that significant. We didn't experience drought, just dry conditions. If there is an effect, it's not that big)," he said in an interview at his office on Monday, May 27, 2024.

Elenita Caro, president of the Davao City Mariculture Operators Association (DCMOA), founded during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 in Punta Dumalag, Matina Aplaya, noted, "Naka-experience sad mi'g mortality sa bangus, siguro tungod sa dili maayong semilya ug sobrang kainit (We experienced mortality in bangus, probably because of poor-quality fingerlings and excessive heat)."

Caro manages the 12 fish cages of DCMOA members in Punta Dumalag, Matina Aplaya.

In their last harvest on May 15, "Wala kaabot og five tons, 4.6 lang. Lugi na kaayo, unya ang baligya kay P141 per kilo (It didn't reach five tons, only 4.6 tons. It's a huge loss, and the sale price was P141 per kilo)."

Recently, bangus has been sold at P138 per kilo in the market.

She explained that selling bangus for at least P147 per kilo would be sufficient, considering that feed costs over P1,000 per sack. For the 12 fish cages, Caro said they would need 28 sacks of feeds per day.

They plan to schedule a harvest in June, hoping for a better catch.

Aimee Evora, CAgrO senior aquaculturist, for her part, added, "Nakita nakong factor nga nibarato ang bangus kay nibarato ang isda sa dagat karon. Nagsige man gyud ko pamalengke. Diba ang tuna niabot naman gani na'g P500 plus sa una, karon tag P300 plus naman. Mas paliton man sa mga tao ang isda sa dagat kung barato (I observed that bangus prices are low because the price of fish from the sea is cheaper now. I frequent the market, and didn't the price of tuna reach P500 plus before? Now it's P300 plus. People prefer to buy cheaper sea fish)."

She added that fish cages are intended to augment the fish supply in the city when catch in municipal (sea) fishing is scarce.

With the closed season scheduled from June to August, Evora said the mariculture industry is expected to bounce back unless Bfar-Davao opens fish importation.

During last year's closed season, Caro said bangus was priced at P170 per kilo.

GUARANTEED FRESH. A vendor at Agdao Public Market assures customers of the top-notch quality of yellowfin tuna, addressing concerns about freshness and reliability.
GUARANTEED FRESH. A vendor at Agdao Public Market assures customers of the top-notch quality of yellowfin tuna, addressing concerns about freshness and reliability. ARJOY CENIZA

Production

Bfar-Davao noted that the region has a total fish production of 75,930.98 metric tons (MT) in 2023, which marks a 10.3 percent in capture fisheries.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA)-11, the capture fisheries industry in Davao Region has shown a steady and substantial increase from 2020 to 2023.

In 2020, production stood at 1,652.47 MT, which rose to 2,209.79 MT in 2021, 5,673.52 MT in 2022, and 6,322.58 MT in 2023.

Bfar-Davao also reported that the aquaculture sub-sector contributed 26,311.80 MT to the total production, supporting the livelihood of 58,156 registered fishers, with over 50 percent relying predominantly on capture fishing activities for their income.

The Fish Sufficiency Level stands at 44.41 percent in 2023, to increase to at least 50 percent by 2024.

Haspe said, "We have a growing inland fishery. Gipadako nato ang inland fishery projects sa Marilog, Paguibato, ug uban pang distrito. Duna ta'y mga rainwater catchments na ginagamit para sa fishpond for tilapia sa Tugbok, Calinan, Marilog, and Paquibato (We are expanding inland fishery projects in Marilog, Paguibato, and other districts. We have rainwater catchments that are used for fishponds for tilapia in Tugbok, Calinan, Marilog, and Paquibato)."

The bangus fish cages in Matina Aplaya, according to him, yield 2,400 MT annually.

UPGRADED. In Punta Dumalag, Matina Aplaya, the fisherfolk community famed for bangus production adopts modern Norwegian fish cages, prioritizing longevity and quality over traditional methods.
UPGRADED. In Punta Dumalag, Matina Aplaya, the fisherfolk community famed for bangus production adopts modern Norwegian fish cages, prioritizing longevity and quality over traditional methods.ARJOY CENIZA

New cage system

Since 2022, the majority of the 43 fish cage operators in Matina Aplaya have transitioned from traditional bamboo cages to Norwegian fish cages, with at least 67 now in use.

Evora explained that a Norwegian fish cage can stock 25,000 to 50,000 bangus with less maintenance, compared to a bamboo fish cage, which has a maximum capacity of 15,000.

Local fish cage operators, particularly large investors, have started using Norwegian fish cages, which cost between P450,000 to P750,000 each, depending on their size.

"Sa kawayan man gud, mag-ilis ka one year or two years, kay maguba sya labaw na pag kusog ang balod. Sa Norwegian kay lig-on gyud sya, dili basta-basta maguba, magdugay gyud sya (With bamboo cages, you need to replace them every one to two years because they break down, especially with strong waves. Norwegian fish cages are much stronger and more durable),"she added.

Caro said DCMOA is still using bamboo fish cages as they could not afford Norwegian fish cages. The association began its mariculture business through a loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Evora noted that some of the fish cage operators have implemented polyculture, raising two or more fish species in one cage.

With the onset of the rainy season, fishermen like Erwin Villas find hope anew in the bountiful promise of the waters, casting their nets with renewed optimism and setting sail toward brighter days ahead. MLSA

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