(File photo by Celeste Anna R. Formoso)

The regional office of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Office (BFAR) said Palawan is in danger of losing its fishermen to better income opportunities in the tourism industry which could affect fish supplies and prices in the market.

BFAR assistant regional director Roberto Abrera said the problem in fisheries in the province appears to be no longer just about the pillage of the marine environment, the curse of overfishing, issues in fish supply and demand, and others, but about fishermen turning to manual labor opportunities in construction projects if not becoming tour guides and renting out their fishing boats to tourists.

Abrera said their office is mulling to do a study on the alleged decline in the workforce in fisheries to check if it is a prevailing situation in fishing communities in the province.

“Napag-uusapan namin na fishermen are shifting to tour guiding kasi ang daming job opportunities sa Palawan. ‘Yong mga kabataan ayaw na maging fishermen, gusto na mag-trabaho bilang manual labor sa mga construction projects. Mag-co-conduct siguro kami ng study regarding this. In fact, social research siguro ang dapat gawin,” Abrera said.

(We’ve been talking about fishermen shifting to tour guiding because there are many job opportunities in Palawan. Young people no longer want to become fishermen, they want to work as manual labors for construction projects. We will maybe do a study regarding this. In fact, maybe social research.)

Abrera said fishermen turning to other work opportunities is not only a problem in the province but also in others where there are flourishing tourism industries.

The decline in fish workers is also happening even in developed countries, he said, and it cannot be easily resolved because the job cannot be mechanized.”

“Hindi naman natin ma-mechanize ang trabaho gaya sa ibang industriya. Kaya pag-aaralan… maybe we should post the study sa dalawa nating state universities sa Palawan (We cannot mechanize the job like in other industries. We will study… maybe we should post this to our two state universities in Palawan),” he said.

Abrera said the situation is turning out to be “maraming isda pero walang mangingisda” (there is a lot of fish but no fishermen).

He explained that to avoid major problems in the fish supply chain, especially during a bad season, the fishermen should be supported against struggling to get their catches to the market and fetching good prices for them.

“Kung baga huwag na nating baratin sila sa presyo kasi, imagine, ‘yong tatay at anak pupunta sa laot. Makakahuli sila ng 10 kilo ng isda, tapos sabihin natin bibilhin sa kanila ng P100 per kilo, so P800 lang ang matatanggap nila kasi ang dalawang kilo pang-ulam pa sa bahay. Pero nag-gasolina sila at gumastos para sa dalawang araw na dadalhin na pagkain sa laot. Paano babawiin ang gastos?,” Abrera pointed out.

(Let’s not haggle with them on the prices because, imagine, the father and son will go out to fish in a very far area. Then they will catch 10 kilos of fish, and this will be bought from them for P100 per kilo, so they’ll only receive P800 because the two kilos will be their family’s food. But they also spent for gasoline and for food for two days. How will they get back what they spent?)

He said fishermen can be helped by promoting environmentally responsible aquaculture as a source of food and other fishery products.

It can be done by using organic feeds to avoid polluting the ocean and by employing the use of fish cages made of concrete and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) materials that are resistant to extreme weather conditions.

He said China, which is having problems in its fish supply, is now engaging a lot in aquaculture to sustain the demand for food.

“Hindi dapat na ipino-promote ang fishing as a dirty job. We can help our fishermen through aquaculture or fish farming. Dapat may sapat na supply ng fries at fingerlings, ang gagamitin na feeds ‘yong organic at di makakasira sa marine environment, at ang mga fish cages dapat hindi na made of indigenous materials kung concrete na at HDPE na di masisira ng bagyo,” he said.

(We should not promote fishing as a dirty job. We can help our fishermen through aquaculture or fish farming. We should have enough fries and fingerling supplies, use feeds that are organic and will not destroy the marine environment, and our fish cages should no longer be made of indigenous materials but concrete and HDPE that cannot be destroyed by typhoons.)

Abrera added further that aquaculture is now a strategy that should be supported by local government units (LGUs) to sustain their fish supplies.

There are fish species, he said, that can stay in large aquarium tanks for one month even without being fed and they can also be studied for aquafarming alongside bangus (milk fish) and tilapia (cichlid fish).

Abrera said these are salay-salay (yellowtail scad) and matangbaka (oxeye scad/bigeye scad).

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