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Rough Cuts: Killing the fishers ‘softly’

We were in San Isidro and Governor Generoso, Davao Oriental last Thursday and Friday. No, we were not there for rest and recreation; we went to that two eastern Davao Province’s municipalities to secure important documents needed for the adjudication of properties inherited by our wife and her sibling from their deceased parents.

Our trip confirmed what our Editor-in-Chief told us about the towns’ relatively much improved economic condition, better road network and the enhancement of its potentials for tourism industry – the towns’ beaches and of course the now world famous heritage site – the Mt. Hamiguitan Range and Wildlife Sanctuary that includes the Pygmy Forest where its trees are natural bonsais located in San Isidro.

We were able to have a feel and sight of the Hamiguitan Range and Wildlife Sanctuary without having climbed the area. All this was courtesy of the prodding of our newly met friends from the San Isidro local government. They are Noe Paciencia of the Municipal Civil Registrar’s Office, and Lito Catog, secretary of the San Isidro Sangguniang Bayan.

The two local government officials ably convinced us to take advantage of being there already and take a side trip to the famous mountain wonder. Since it was still early in the day we obliged. And we did not regret it. It was tiresome and risky but the trip was worth it.

Now, how we were convinced to do the side trip, we will treat it in another story.

The meat of our column today will, however, be focused on the complaints of a good number of small fishers getting their day-to-day livelihood from fishing within sea surrounding the two municipalities.

We had our early dinner at one of the beaches in San Isidro. But when some of our relatives residing nearby learned of our presence, they went to the beach area where we stayed. They knew us to be a former broadcaster and a newspaperman. But they did not come by themselves alone. They were joined by some fishers who want to let us know of their predicament.

When we invited them for dinner the subsistence fishers – they who use hooks and lines and small nets — respectfully turned down our invitation. But they were too happy to oblige when we offer them the most popular liquor brand in the area.

After some few shots of the hard drinks they started telling us of the situation of the two towns’ fast diminishing sea resources. They talked about their much reduced catch due to the proliferation of fishing operations with fisher teams using compressors, as well as the fishermen who use big nets coupled with heavy metal assembly. This is the type of fishing the locals call “sobrusca.”

In compressor fishing, a team of fishers that a boat carries dives into the sea to a maximum depth of about a hundred feet. They stay there even for hours spearing the best deep sea fish varieties. Those that will seek refuge inside huge stones and corals the divers spray them with liquid poison forcing the fishes to come out. This then will allow the divers to spear the fish.

According to the subsistence fisherfolk they are resigned to the reality that there are those with resources that can fish using the better system of catching. But what they are against and felt very much disadvantaged is the encroachment of the compressor fishermen in the fishing grounds where the ordinary fishers fish using hooks and small nets. They said that while they are on their boats on the water surface waiting for the fish to eat the bait attached to their hook, under the sea where their lines are dropped the compressor divers are also doing their thing. Thus, with divers underneath spearing and poisoning the fish what more is left for the small fishermen to catch?

Meanwhile, in the “sobrusca” fishing the fishers use huge net cast into bigger area and down into a much deeper reach in the sea. Another team coming from the same group will pound the sea floor using the assembled heavy iron to drive the fishes underneath up towards the waiting net.

But what is more destructive in this method, according to the complaining fishers, is that the pounding of the sea floor could hit the corals and destroy them. In the process, they said, the fishes’ hiding places and sources of food would be gone. This will force the fishes to migrate to other areas of the sea.

The subsistence fishers told us they believe this is happening in their area already since their catch has already been declining at a very fast pace. There are even times that in places where they used to fish with abundant catch today they sometimes catch only enough for their own viand. None is left to sell in the market.

Sensing the weight of the problem that the small time fishers are confronted with we asked them whether they have approached the proper agencies both from the local and national governments for possible assistance. They said they have. However, the promised solution has, until now, remained a failed commitment.

They were more saddened when they learned that the owners of the compressor fishing operations as well as the “sobrusca” fishers’ nets are connected with the government also both local and national. Meaning, they said, the very people they have approached for assistance are the once doing the illegal fishing methods.

One fisher even told us he nearly got into a fight with one compressor fisher over encroachment of area where he was fishing where the latter operated under the water where the former fisherman was throwing his line and hook.

Indeed if this is the situation in the fishing grounds of San Isidro and Governor Generoso it will not take long for the ordinary fishers to go extremely hungry. And there are many of them in the two Davao Oriental municipalities.

Well, its election time. The subsistence fishers will have the opportunity to exact their “revenge.”
Gentlemen, it’s now your call.

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