Fish kill hits Lake Sebu anew; officials push for regulations

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/08 August) – South Cotabato officials are pushing for the regulation of fish cage operations at the critical Lake Sebu following another fish kill that destroyed around 8,000 kilograms of Tilapia.

Reynaldo Legaste, South Cotabato agriculture officer, said Wednesday the fish kill in Lake Sebu since last week so far affected 14 fish cage operators, who reported combined losses of P656,000.
He said the latest fish kill was caused anew by “kamahong,” a phenomenon that is mainly caused by the sudden rise in the water’s temperature.

“The overcrowding at the fish cages and the over-utilization of fish feeds also contributed to the fish kill,” Legaste said.

In January, a major fish kill in the area that was also blamed on “kamahong” destroyed some 48.55 metric tons of Tilapia. It affected 48 fish cage owners and left a total damage of P3.8 million based on tilapia’s market price of P80 per kilo.

“Kamahong,” which usually occurs during the rainy season, triggers the rise of sulfuric acid in the lake’s waters that eventually caused the massive fish kill, provincial fishery coordinator Rex Vargas said.

“It occurs when cold rainwater, which is heavier than warm water, settles at the abyssal zone of the lake. This causes the water upturn or upwelling of warm water carrying silts, sediments, and gases such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, sulphur and methane gas produced by the decomposing organic matter such as fish feeds,” he explained.

Vargas said such situation results in the reduction of dissolved oxygen in the water, “forcing fishes to take in oxygen directly from the atmosphere and eventually die.”

Following the January fish kill, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) central office recommended a moratorium on the fish cage operations in Lake Sebu, which it described as already over-polluted and on the brink of devastation.

BFAR also noted that the lake is considered overcrowded with fish cages, which already covered 35 percent of its waters or way beyond the 10 percent allowed by the law.

But the municipal government of Lake Sebu opposed the proposed moratorium due to economic reasons and instead embarked on the dismantling of around 100 fish cages, a number considered to be over the lake’s carrying capacity.

Lake Sebu Mayor Antonio Fungan said the operators themselves voluntarily demolished the fish cages that were covered by such move.

Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. earlier directed the local government’s environment and agriculture offices to conduct a comprehensive study on the status of the fish cage operations and formulate regulatory policies that would help properly manage Lake Sebu’s fishery resources.

He said the move is mainly aimed at preventing a potential massive fish kill, which has already become an annual occurrence.

“Studies showed that the fish kill was mainly caused by the overcrowding of the fish cages at the lake and too much use of commercial fish feeds. We might need to regulate the presence of the
fish cages to save the lake from further degradation,” the governor said. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)