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IMPULSES | The Fisheries Hymn of Hope

By Herman M. Lagon

WITHIN the rhythmic verses of the Fishery Hymn, there echoes a profound connection between education and livelihood—a bond that is as intrinsic to the Philippines as its vast and bountiful waters. It was during the solemnity of the Monday Flag Rites that my good friend from ISUFST, Dr. Edmer Bernardo, explained to me that this hymn is both universal and collective.

The ‘aha! Moment’ was timely, with the recent release of the 2023 Board Licensure Examination for Fisheries Professionals stirring the academic waters on the same day. Sung by students across fisheries schools in the Philippines, the hymn serves as a resonant reminder of the inextricable link between the archipelago’s essence and the existence of its fisheries and aquaculture industries.

The marching hymn that I previously thought to be the anthem of the Iloilo State College of Fisheries (ISCOF) and now Iloilo State University of Fisheries Science and Technology (ISUFST) goes like this:

Fishery Hymn:

Beloved school of fisheries
Deep in our fondest memories
Sweet breezes gently sign they name
dear through all the lands
across the seas

Whatever be our destiny
Through eons of eternity
We sing it loudly and very proudly
Deep in our heart they
cherished name will ever be

I rise to her call lastly pioneer
and give her all through gladness
and through tears
Let the wonder of her name
They glorious name reecho through the year

Sail on oh, happy ship!
Beloved school of fisheries
Keep on thy glorious trip
through life’s uncharted stormy seas

Shine on from year to year
thy loyal children we will be
We love her ever, now and forever our Alma Matter dear

Clearly, it has a broader reach—it is a siren call to all those who are part of this vital sector of the country. It encapsulates a spirit of unity and purpose, emphasizing the inevitability and importance of the industry in the Philippines’ very fabric. To the students, it underscores their role in nurturing a sector that is both a livelihood and a lifeblood for millions in the archipelago.

As the verses unfurl, one can discern a reflection of the Philippines’ current state of marine affairs. The country, once a robust contender in the global aquaculture arena, has seen its position wane from 4th to 12th place. This decline mirrors the challenges highlighted in the tableau of overfishing, illegal fishing methods like dynamite fishing, and habitat destruction—a bleak vista for the country’s fisheries and global marine life alike. Despite these challenges, the hymn invokes a spirit of resilience and determination, a call to pioneer and persevere through gladness and tears.

The upbeat tempo and the bright tones in which the Fishery Hymn is sung evoke a sense of hope and positivity. The act of singing this hymn, the involuntary sway, and the shared voices all symbolize a collective commitment to steering the ‘happy ship’ of the Philippine fisheries sector through life’s ‘uncharted stormy seas.’ The melody is a vibrant backdrop to the grim statistics that beset the industry—where small-scale fisherfolk reel under poverty, earning barely enough to sustain their families.

The lyrical narrative speaks to the heart of the matter—food security amidst foreign encroachments in our sovereign seas and the need for sustainability. The hymn celebrates the potential of fisheries and aquaculture to rise as one of the solutions to these pressing issues. Even as aquaculture takes precedence over capture fisheries, the song’s chorus emphasizes the role of education in pioneering sustainable practices that can safeguard the fisheries industry for both the capitalist and the small fisherfolk.

However, the Fishery Hymn is not merely a reflection of dreams and aspirations; it is an anthem that resonates with the harsh realities of climate change. Declining catch rates, mortality rates, and shrinking sizes of fish are pressing issues that the hymn’s listeners are all too familiar with. Still, it remains an uplifting rallying cry that instills a sense of duty and honor in the hearts of its singers.

Embedded within the hymn’s verses is the call to cherish and elevate the noble name of the schools of fisheries in the country, an allegory to the fisheries sector’s potential and the nurturing role of education. It is an Ignatian message of sorts—encouraging not only excellence but also service and responsibility towards a greater good. This message is especially pertinent as the Philippines grapples with coastal degradation and social protection for fisherfolk during periods of closed fishing seasons.

The industry, vital to the Philippine economy, contributes significantly to GDP and supports nearly two million fisherfolks. It is a sector with paradoxes—rich in marine and coastal resources yet marked by the struggles of those who depend on it. The Fishery Hymn, with its poignant optimism, serves as an inspirational backdrop to this duality, urging those involved to strive for a better, more sustainable future.

The hymn’s conclusion, projecting an image of perennial shine and a voyage through the years, symbolizes the enduring spirit required to navigate the ever-changing seas of the fisheries sector. As the Philippines works to improve its standing in marine capture and inland production worldwide, the hymn offers a touchstone for unity and resolve.

The Fishery Hymn is more than a school anthem; it is a manifesto for all those dedicated to the fisheries sector. From the students embarking on their educational journeys to the seasoned fisherfolks casting nets into the future, the hymn encapsulates the challenges, the hopes, and the undying spirit of an industry at the heart of the Philippine identity. When sung, it fills the air with not just notes and words but with the collective aspirations of a nation, swaying and singing in harmony, looking towards a horizon filled with promise and prosperity.

***

(Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.)

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