Saturday, November 21, 2015

Support for Taal’s fisherfolk is support for the lake


Have flies and other insects feasted on that dried fish you like so much for breakfast during the DSC_0015drying process? Not if it was done by the good fisherfolk of the Kilusan ng Maliliit na Mangingisda sa Lawa ng Taal (KMMLT).

The Seacology-funded solar fish dryer took center stage last November 20, 1015 when it was unveiled during the 52nd Anniversary celebration of Department of Science and Technology - Region IV at the Taal Lake Convention Center in Barangay Kinalaglagan, Mataasnakahoy, Batangas.

The stainless steel, food-grade solar fish dryer measures about 5.5’ x 3’ x 3’. It was designed and built by Electrical and Communications Engineering students of the Batangas State University as part of their thesis. The 2000-watt energy requirement is supplied by eight solar panels connected to 8 heavy-duty absorbent glass mat batteries and an inverter.

DSC_0070Racks of fresh fish were stacked inside and the 3-4 hour drying process started while the day’s program continued. Who knew the scent of drying fish would smell so clean?

Built with the assistance of the Municipality of Mataasnakahoy, the Taal Lake Convention Center or TLCC became the base of operations for Pusod and KMMLT in developing alternative sustainable livelihood programs for Taal’s fisherfolk. It was badly damaged in July 2014 by Typhoon Glenda, and Seacology also provided funds to repair the roofing and to refurbish the kitchen. A rainwater catchment system and water tank was also furnished.DSC_0029

There are three minimum components in a successful community project: government support, partnership with NGOs and the private sector, and strong community involvement, so said Dr. Rowena Guevara, DOST Undersecretary for Scientific and Technological Services during her keynote speech. Closely collaborating with state universities helps too, Pusod Executive Director Ann Hazel Javier quickly added when a chance to speak came.

DSC_0013As sitting members of the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape – Protected Area Management Board, both Pusod and the KMMLT were able to give their inputs to the lake’s medium-term management plan, giving voice to an otherwise marginalized stakeholder of the lake.

KMMLT members know the lake and its volcano by heart. Maribel Orense, KMMLT secretary, can rattle off facts and figures faster than anyone can ask her. Thirteen municipalities and two cities of Batangas Province plus one city of Cavite Province embrace the lake. Most of the fish cages and pens are in the municipalities of Agoncillo, Laurel, San Nicholas, and Talisay. Ask and she will gladly tell, even as she nimbly darts to and from the TLCC kitchen.DSC_0042

It is home to the tawilis (Sardinella tawilis), a freshwater sardine species found only in Taal Lake that greatly contributes to the economy and food supply of the area, as well as other endemic fishes such as the biya (Glossogobius giurus), ayungin (Leiopotherapon plumbeus), igat (Anguilla marmorata), and milkfish (Chanos chanos). There are migratory fishes as well that swim upstream from Balayan Bay, such as the maliputo (Caranx ignobilis) and muslo (Caranx sexfasciatus).

Overfishing and the introduction of invasive omnivorous species threaten the endemic and DSC_0054migratory species. Particularly deleterious are the tilapia (oreochromis niloticus or nile tilapia), which escaped the fish cages and pens that proliferated during the 1980s. The Chinese soft-shelled turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis) and the jaguar guapote (Parachromis managuensis), which are likely an unintended consequence of the aquarium trade, not just prey on the juveniles of endemic fishes but also compete for food.

The KMMLT has been spearheading efforts to sustainably manage Taal's resources since the 1990s. In 2009, a 1,000-hectare fish sanctuary was established. DSC_0058Their commitment to Seacology is to keep protecting it for at least 10 years, and generally speaking, enforcement has been smooth as most fishers of Taal are members of KMMLT. They are also on the lookout for those engaging in illegal fishing methods.

Four violators in the previous months were particularly difficult. They were accosted for using fine mesh nets, called suro. Suro boats roam the lake at night and are outlawed because they catch even the tawilis fingerlings. The catch of a suro boat in one night is equivalent to that caught by a small fisherman in a year, reason enough for some to try. One violator is the father of a town mayor, and the other three are his relatives as well. When confronted by the mayor, the father reportedly said “Pinakain at pinalaki kita sa pangingisda, at ngayon ay patitigilin mo ako?” (I fed and raised you through fishing, and now you want me to stop?).

DSC_0060Another threat that Pusod and KMMLT are trying to address is the fishkill that occurs every other year on the average. Through the DOST, a Sensing Environmental Parameters through Telemetry (SENTRY) unit was also deployed at the Lipute Bridge. Water quality indicators, such as Biological Oxygen Demand, are monitored hourly and the data is accessible online. Piggery operators upstream have been warned against the dumping of effluents into the river, and an alert sent by the SENTRY through SMS should lead to the apprehension of any violator.

Taal lake has much to offer too in terms of tourism. Protected Area Superintendent Vic Mercado couldn’t contain his enthusiasm during the program when he blurted, “You are missing half of your life if you haven’t been to the volcano.”DSC_0017

Tours, which directly benefit the KMMLT members, can be arranged with Pusod. Some KMMLT members have been trained to guide tourists to the volcano, providing interesting tidbits of information every step of the way. It’s not so much what one would miss, it seems, than what one would gain.