Confessions of Polillo islands fishermen

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The author (left) interviews a fisherman from the Polilio Group of Islands, who admits he still practices dynamite fishing

Illegal fishing is still rampant in some areas of the Polillo Group of Islands.

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Fishermen still practice destructive fishing methods such as the use of dynamite to catch schooling and/or big fishes. Others employs sodium cyanide to catch high-value fishes such as groupers and ornamental fishes, while some use compressors or hookah to fish even though the local government has already banned it locally.

From a distance, we can see and hear fishers using dynamite! Our team heard an explosion when we were on an island barangay at 10 a.m. While we thought that it was just an isolated case, an explosion again was heard at the poblacion of one municipality, not just once, but twice. We saw two big splashes of water less than 2 kilometers from the shore. At that same place, a fisher was cooking in a small pan the “ingredients” of a dynamite while talking to another fisher.

Haribon staff discovers that fewer fish species are caught from Polillo waters

Haribon staff discovers that fewer fish species are caught from Polillo waters

The fishers admit they still use cyanide to catch live groupers or lapu-lapu big enough to fit their plates. They use cyanide in tandem with compressors to have longer bottom time to look for red-colored groupers—the same groupers we usually see in the wet markets of Metro Manila. The same lapu-lapu swimming in tanks or aquariums in several restaurants cooked and served fresh to diners. The cyanide and compressors were also being used to catch ornamental fishes to meet the growing demand of aquarists in the United States and Europe.

For one whole month, our team composed of three, conducted a survey on the fishermen’s knowledge in the two municipalities of the Polilio Group of Islands.

We interviewed seven fishermen a day on the average per barangay. We went to several barangays, some in the main island and some in satellite islands in the two municipalities. We would spend at least three days per island or barangays in order to get a good representation of the fishers.

Some of our questions tackled the kinds of fishing gears they currently use to catch fish; do they catch the same kilos of fish in 1950, up to now; other livelihood to augment their earnings from fishing, and the kinds of fishes they think are getting extinct or slowly disappearing since they started to fish.

At the end of the survey, the fisherfolk admitted that they are to blame for continuous destruction of their livelihood. Their catches were declining even if they use cyanide and dynamite to catch more fish. According to one, some species are disappearing, or now seldom caught.

Although there are other nongovernment organizations working with organized fishermen and local governments in the Polillo Group of Islands, there is still no substitute for a firm and forward-thinking local chief executive.

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