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A serious fish talk | Philippine News Agency


By Jun Ledesma

THE Philippines has its own versions of politicians and characters who are advocates of aggressive foreign policy. Think of this. A fishing boat anchored in Recto Bank was figured in an accident and side-swiped by a Chinese fishing vessel in an inky dark sea and the hawks are one to invoke the mutual defense treaty with the United States of America.
Because Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte refused to be dragged to their hawkish adventurism, they tried another scheme by attempting to bring the President to court. They filed the writ of kalikasan to make him accountable for the virtual loss of Scarborough Shoal and the nonchalance and government’s acquiescence while China was building an airstrip and artificial island in the Scarborough. But the Supreme Court called their attention for filing the case against the wrong man. It’s short of saying ‘the respondent should be Benigno Aquino, Albert del Rosario and their 3rd phalanx, Antonio Trillanes. Suddenly they all retreated to their cocoon and are eerily quiet. The legal adventurism boomeranged, putting a law dean and defeated senatorial bet Chel Diokno to public flagellation and shame not only because of the Court’s rebuke but putting fishermen in a legal bind for placing their names as witnesses when none of them are obviously aware of the case.
When you sum it up, all the brouhaha is about fish. We are being fooled to believe that only Filipinos are fishing in the islands at the West Philippine Sea. The truth of the matter is that that vast expanse is the historical and traditional fishing grounds not only of Pinoys but all our Asian neighbors. So let's get real and talk about fish. Let’s leave the legal issues to the legal luminaries.
A friend from Davao City, Domingo Ang, who owns the famous Marina Tuna and whose family has been into fishing for as long as I can remember, takes the issue of marine resources quite seriously. Trawl fishing, he said, is the main reason why marine resources in the West Philippine Sea are depleted. The nets catch all sizes of fish and corals where fish spawns are damaged by nets that are dragged by the fishing boats. He suggests that only hook and line be used. He admits though that this is difficult to implement in WPS and come up with an alternative. Government through the Bureau of Fisheries help fishermen organize into cooperatives of 15 members each. Extend each coop ₱8-million loan for a modern fishing boat that is equipped with radar, refrigerated chamber or chiller, the aquarium where small live fishes to be temporarily placed to be transferred later to a growing pond. The small groupers can grow to more than 12 inches in about six months and can be exported later at a premium price. This amount will cover the necessary working capital and other capital expenditures among these are fish aggregating (attracting) devices like payaos.
But what Doming Ang really wants the government to do is to look eastward and secure the rich marine resources of the eastern seaboard. Doming, whose Marina Tuna is already directly exporting tuna from Davao City to Hong Kong and Japan, suggests that coast guard patrols should be intensified in the eastern corridors. These patrols can be complemented by the modern fishing boats of the coops which will be equipped with a communications system. Doming said that while politicians and warmongers are exchanging barbs about that freak incident in Recto Bank, nobody seems to be concerned of the much bigger marine resources that we have in the eastern seaboard.
The Philippine exclusive economic zone and territory that face the Pacific rim, is the main migration highway of tuna and where a variety of fishes are found, Doming describes. Speaking of fishermen’s cooperatives, each member he said, can easily earn not less than ₱40,000.00 per month on the average considering weather disturbances, high and low seasons. His advocacy is to strictly use hook-and-line fishing. One tuna can fetch at least ₱20,000.00. But the export market, he cautioned, is very strict with quality control. “That is why a post-harvest refrigerated or chiller chamber in the fishing boat is essential otherwise not less than 40% of the catch loses its value. We need to extend financial fishing coops as the start-up capital of at least ₱8-million for the boat and the gears that would include a radar system, communications equipment, and global positioning system ”, he stressed.
Ang is chairman of the Davao Gulf Fishermen Cooperative and also the incumbent Chairman of PhilExport Region 11. His passion to help fishermen is borne by his dedication to alleviating this marginalized sector who, according to him, has actually a big potential to leap-frog to the middle-income class. He wants to reach out to Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte to recommend that the idle 25-hectare National Development Corporation real estate property in Toril, Davao City be ceded by way of usufruct to the city government then declare this as an Export Processing Zone.
“We need a wide area for an EPZ where we can set-up food terminal processing complexes for fish, fruits, vegetable or agro marine products for the local and export markets and ensuring food security and stabilize food supply for Davao and Mindanao but even for the country”, Ang explained. Tuna and other fish species caught in the eastern seaboard can be landed in Toril fish port terminal, processed and then flown directly to export market destinations from Davao International Airport. He said that Davao fruit and vegetable growers can maximize their output, have these processed and in the same way be exported from Davao.
“I want to see the day when China, for example, will just import their fish and fruit needs instead of competing with small-time fishermen in WPS. We produce and they just buy”, he said, adding that China produces grouper fingerlings which can be grown in the fish cages in Davao. He bared that he had a trial shipment of fingerlings which he is now cultivating to export size.  Former peace adviser Jesus Dureza is a recipient of his initial shipment and is now growing these in his Seagull fish cages. Doming said that there are lots of possibilities and Chinese investors are keen on partnering with the locals for joint ventures.
I asked Mr. Ang whether he can be tapped to join the government to avail of his expertise. He said that he is willing to help President Duterte and Usec. Ed Gongona, head of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in the area fisheries as an adviser. “I will be available to them at their beck and call”.

About the Columnist

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Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.