Illegal fish cages in Lake Sebu to be dismantled

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/04 February) — The provincial government of South Cotabato will start next week the dismantling of illegal fish cages along the critical Lake Sebu as it embarks on an intensive rehabilitation program for the endangered lake.

Siegfred Flaviano, Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) chief, said Tuesday such move is in line with an order issued by the provincial government and the municipal government of Lake Sebu that set the massive cleanup of the overcrowded lake of all illegal fish cages and related structures.

He said the order, which was issued late last year, gave local fish cage operators only until January 30 to voluntarily dismantle their illegal fish cages or face demolition.

“This covers fish cages that have no proper permits, owned by unlicensed operators and those sub-leased by their original owners,” he said in a media forum.

Flaviano explained that the entire lake is classified as municipal waters, thus, barring owners of the lands within its banks to claim ownership and set up fish cages over portions of the lake without securing proper licenses and permits.

Citing provisions of Lake Sebu’s fishery ordinance, he said fish cage operators are also not allowed to sub-lease their allotted areas.

But he said their assessment showed that about 80 percent of the fish cages at the lake had been so far sub-leased to operators from other areas.

Some of these operators are traders or companies based in this city and Davao City, he said.

He said these illegal practices have led to the overcrowding of the lake beyond its carrying capacity and has triggered the series of fish kills in the area in the last three years.

“The lake has a lot of fish cages but the taxes collected by the municipal government from the entire industry are quite insignificant. So there’s really something wrong there,” Flaviano said.

Records showed that Lake Sebu, which has an area of around 354 hectares, has a total of 371 licensed fish cage operators but its carrying capacity was only placed at around 320 fish cages.

Last year, the office of the Protected Area Superintendent for the Allah Valley Protected Landscape in South Cotabato placed the total number of fish pens along the lake at 4,586 or 13 times beyond its capacity.

Under Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fishery Code of 1998, only 10 percent of the total land area of inland waters is allowed for aquaculture development.

Flaviano said that based on their latest assessment, the fish cages currently occupy around 19 percent or 70.99 hectares of Lake Sebu.

“We’re targeting to reduce that to 10 percent or 35 hectares within the next six months,” he said.

Flaviano said the demolition order was issued based on a recommendation from the Lake Sebu Rehabilitation, Conservation and Development Council, a multisectoral body that was tasked to lead the rehabilitation of the lake.

He said the council held a series of consultations last year to address the deteriorating condition of the lake that was mainly blamed over the series of massive fish kills in the area in the last two years.

The fish kills were caused anew by kamahong, a phenomenon that is mainly caused by the sudden rise in the water’s temperature.

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 earlier said.

“It occurs when cold rainwater, which is heavier than warm water, settles at the abyssal zone of the lake. This causes the 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.”

In October last year, Around 20 metric tons (MT) of harvestable tilapia and pangasius were devastated after a fish kills hit anew the area.

In 2012, around 57 MT of tilapia were destroyed in two fish kills at the lake that were blamed on kamahong.

The initial fishkill in January 2012 ravaged some 48.55 MT 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.

In August that same year, an additional 8,000 kilograms of tilapia, valued at around P650,000, were destroyed in another fish kill that affected 14 fish cages at the lake. (MindaNews)