Still a bleak Christmas for fisherfolk in Lake Manint

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KITCHARAO, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews /24 Dec) – Christmas remains bleak for fisherfolk living around Lake Mainit as they have yet to recover from last year’s massive fish kill.

Fernan Batingue, 23, of Barangay San Roque told MindaNews they could no longer rely on their catch of tilapia and carp in the lake.

He said one is lucky now if het gets five kilos of tilapia for a day’s work.

Christmas remains bleak for fisherfolk living around Lake Mainit as they have yet to recover from last year’s massive fish kill. MindaNews photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

Bantigue said other than tilapia, pijanga remains the highest fish population in the lake that straddles the towns of Jabonga and Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte and

Alegria and Mainit in Surigao del Norte.

Pijanga size ranges from 57 to 242 mm, according to the 2009 study conducted by Mindanao State University-Naawan Foundation for Science and Technology Development titled “Sustainable Fisheries Management Program for Lake Mainit”.

Pijanga can be bought in the local market at 60 to 120 pesos per kilo, depending on the size of the fish.

Bantigue said he can regularly harvest 15 kilos of pijanga in the lake. But this is nothing compared in the previous years when the yield was from 25 to 30 kilos.

He sells his catch to the local buyers for 70 pesos per kilo for the large ones, 50 for medium and 30 for  the small ones.

Pijanga was not affected by the fish kill last year. Only tilapia and carp.

But last year was the worst Christmas they had because even if they had pijanga to sell, buyers refused to buy any catch from the lake for fear of getting sick.

“At that time the authorities had not been able to determine what caused the fish kill.

The fish kill occurred sometime in the 3rd week of November.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources 13 said the fish kill was due to dissolved oxygen in Lake Mainit.

Last Christmas, the price of tilapia went down to as low as 60 pesos per kilo from 140 pesos per kilo.

This Christmas, tilapia sells for 160 pesos per kilo.

Betty Villasmor, a fish vendor at the public market here said her fisherfolk-suppliers have been supplying her a low volume of catch.

Benjie Bongcales, 18 and his friend Alvin went fishing on December 23 using a fish net. Their catch? Only two and a half kilos of fish for seven hours of fishing.

“This is better than nothing at all,” he said.

Fisherfolk here said government released into the lake last month tilapia fingerlings.

Most of the fisherfolk blamed last year’s fish kill to mining activities upstream.

Greenstone Resources Corporation, an Australian  firm engaged in gold and silver mining operations denied they caused the fishkill.

In a daily radio advertisement, the company used the BFAR findings that it was due to low dissolved oxygen.

The 2009 study conducted by Mindanao State University-Naawan Foundation for Science and Technology Development titled “Sustainable Fisheries Management Program for Lake Mainit, said the fish population declined because of unsustainable fishing practices.

“The lake and river fisheries are rapidly being depleted due to unsustainable or destructive fishing practices, too many fishers, highly diversified fishing technology, and lack of enforcement of fisheries and environmental policies. Income from fishing is no longer sustainable in many areas, and lakeshore communities fear that rare and endemic fishes in the lake will be lost due to overfishing,” it said.

“Lake Mainit also faces threats of habitat degradation due to pollution from agriculture and mining, destructive fishing practices and the use of chemicals or poisons have reduced the aquatic biodiversity of the lake,” it added.

Lake Mainit, the fourth largest lake in the country, occupies an area of 17,060 hectares.  (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)

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