Sunday, November 18, 2012

SPECIAL REPORT: LGUs blamed for decline in fish production in Bulacan

A fishpond operator feeds milkfish with old bread in Hagonoy, Bulacan.

HAGONOY, Bulacan—Like other mothers, Lorie Umali got up just before day break to cook breakfast for her children.

While waiting for the rice to be fully cooked, she started frying hotdogs—
her kids’ favorite viand and their premier source of protein.

When she was younger, Umali recalled, her mother used to cook fish for her, and considered hotdogs as a treat prepared for special occasions like birthdays and Christmas.

“It’s easier to cook, and sometimes cheaper than fish,” Umali said in Filipino referring to her new preference of cooking hotdogs over fish.

But there is a greater explanation to the changing preference for source of protein these days, which many households hardly notice over the years.

It’s the decline in fish production especially in the province of Bulacan which was blamed to increasing water pollution.
Marilao River clean,a mirror of poor implementation of garbage law.

Ranking officials of government agencies and some fishermen blame it on poor implementation of solid waste law, but operators of smaller fishponds in the province accused bigger pond operators for excessive use of aqua feeds.

Records obtained by this writer from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) shows that fish production in Bulacan has dropped from 53,804.3 metric tons in 2004 to 40,790.91 metric tons in 2011.

Except in 2008 when Bulacan fish production climbed to 51,768.93, BAS records showed consistent drop in that eight years period.

Even in brackish water fishpond milkfish production in which Bulacan leads all provinces in production output from 2004 to 2011, BAS records showed decreased production from 34,785.00  to 23,019.66 metric tons.
Smaller catch illustrating declining fish production.

The Provincial Agriculture Office explained that decrease in fish production in the province is a confluence of different factors including impacts of climate change, increasing water pollution and pond operator shift from milkfish to tiger prawns or shift from fish culture to fingerlings production.

However, Dr. Remedios Ongtangco, the director of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Central Luzon openly blamed water pollution as primary factor in decrease fish production.

She explained that fish thrive on water and its quality affects aquaculture and other marine resources.

When asked on causes of water pollution, Ongtangco pointed to poor implementation of solid waste law.

“Our local government units are the ones responsible for waste management and unless the truly implement it, our fish production will always be threaten,” she said.

This was affirmed by Lawyer Rustico De Belen, the former head of the Bulacan Environment and Natural Resources Office (PGB).

De Belen also admitted that improper disposal of garbage along with poor implementation of the law by local government units from municipalities and cities down to the barangays as the culprit in water pollution.
Men loading bags of agua feeds into a boat in Hagonoy, Bulacan.

But for medium pond operators like Pedro Geronimo of this coastal town, bigger fishpond operators are causing more pollution due to excessive use of aqua feeds.

This was affirmed by Patrocinio Laderas, a former Provincial Board Member who has moved his fishpond operator from this town to Bicol in mid-90s.

Laderas said that in the mid-80s, local fishpond operators have benefited from clean waters, but increasing use of aqua feeds along with garbage disposal in rivers left waterways polluted.

Excessive use of aqua feeds was confirmed by Lito Lacap, the president of the Integrated Services for the Development of Aquaculture (ISDA), an organization of fishpond operators in Central Luzon which is composed of large scale fishpond operators in Bulacan and Pampanga.

“Our members have realized the impacts of excessive use of aqua feeds in pond operations, that’s why many are moving towards tradition fish culture as advised by BFAR,” Lacap said.

Other suggestion of BFAR, according to Lacap, include reduction of fish stock that requires less aqua feeds.

He added that some of their members are practicing traditional fish culture every other cropping season, or starting their fish culture with traditional methods, and when fish got bigger, then they will use aqua feeds.

Traditional methods requires growing of organic planktons that serve a food for milkfish and tilapia or St. Peter’s Fish production.

“They might be correct that excessive use of aqua feeds is a factor in water pollution, but poor waste management remained as primary factor,” De Belen said.

He added that since 2010, the Provincial Solidwaste Management Board had only convened a summit once and gave directives to municipal and city solidwaste management boards to properly implement the law and conduct information dissemination.

The summit also advised municipal and city governments in the province for proper waste segregation  and collection to prevent residents in throwing garbage into the river.

However, not too many local government units have responded positively.
Hagonoy MRF located on the bank of Labangan Channel.

As a matter of fact, there still LGUs in Bulacan that operates open dumpsites, some of which are located less than 50 meters away from bodies of water like rivers, creeks and fishponds.

Earlier, Bishop Pablo David of the Archdiocese of Pampanga condemned operations of open dumpsites in Central Luzon.

Speaking in an environment summit for educators at La Consolacion University-Philippines (LaCUP) here, David even went to extent of encouraging non-governmental organizations to file charges against LGUs that are not implementing solidwaste law.

David’s exhortation was in reaction to earlier statement in the same summit by Lormelyn Claudio, the director of Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) that they cannot just file charges against erring LGUs as those were their partners in implementation of the law.

Claudio added that as of May, at least 82 LGUs in the region has expressed commitment to implement the law after they threatened to file charges. 

Paombong MRF on the other side of Labangan Channel.
However, implementation of solid waste management remain slow for many LGUs and local citizens remain undisciplined in their household disposal.

Smaller fishpond operators and fisher folks alike said that unless the government became serious in their job of implementing the law, fish production in Bulacan will continue to drop.

That means less fish on the marker and higher prices of fish that will continue to lead mothers like Umali to depend on processed meat for protein needs of their children.

(This special report was published in the November 14-20 edition of the Central Luzon Business Week (Vol. 8, No.1).  It is part of the series of reports produced by Dino Balabo under the International Women's Media Foundation's (IWMF) Environmental Investigative Reporting Fellowship program.)