PAKIL, Laguna – A coastal community in Barangay Banilan in Pakil town, Laguna, now rarely sells fresh fish at the market because its catch of commercial fish species has been declining.
Some residents say the low yield was brought by the reported closing of the Napindan Channel, which they consider the pathway of “marketable fish” to their place.
The channel at the northwestern shore of Laguna de Bay connects the country’s biggest inland body of water to the Pasig River and Manila Bay.
“This has affected us, of course. We find it hard to catch even the fish that we could eat,” Prudencio de Guia, 59, who grew up in the village, said in Filipino.
Thousands of people have depended on Laguna de Bay, with an area of 911 square kilometers, for their livelihood.
But the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) denied that the Napindan had been closed. The channel, located in Taguig City, is under the jurisdiction of the Metro Manila Development Authority.
“That is a misconception. For many years, the Napindan channel has been left open since we know how important it is for the fisherfolk,” its general manager, Edgar Manda, said.
Manda pointed to pollution, siltation and deforestation as reasons for the decline in the fish catch.
More than 70 percent of the 1,000 people in Barangay Banilan rely solely on fishing for their income. But since the fish population has dropped, some are looking for alternative means of livelihood so they can feed their families.
Most of the residents have tried drying their catch of “kanduli” since the fish is not exactly a market favorite.
“If not kanduli, we would get janitor fish. [But] our efforts in catching fish would often be useless,” De Guia said.
Kanduli can tolerate a harsh environment so it is the main variety thriving in Banilan.
De Guia said most of the people dried the fish variety, hoping to earn amid adversity. “This is our own solution to our problem. But this does not give us the income we really need,” he said.
Dried kanduli is sold at P70 per kilo, which is not even a break-even price, De Guia said. “We have no other choice. We don’t want to get hungry,” he said.
Often, the sellers would end up eating the dried kanduli that are not bought.
“The buyers are consistently looking for other varieties. I think they are already fed up with the varieties that we sell,” De Guia said.
Manda said the LLDA had nothing to do with the disappearance of fish in Pakil and other towns in the eastern part of the bay. But he said the agency had been working on some proposed solutions to the fishermen’s problems.
De Guia asked the LLDA to allow small fishermen like him to put up fish cages for free since they were earning almost nothing.
Their cooperative, he said, was paying P4,500 every quarter for a four-hectare fishpen, but the structure could be demolished anytime since the group could no longer pay the dues.
“Most of us have a long list of debts. We don’t know how we can settle the dues,” he said.
Manda said only the illegal fishpens and fish cages were being demolished as these “only promote pollution in the lake, which would worsen the problems of the fisherfolk.”