SouthCot wants more stringent measures to preserve lakes

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 12 Feb) – Environment personnel in South Cotabato province are pushing for the amendment of the fisheries ordinance of Lake Sebu town in a bid to ensure the proper management of its three critical lakes.

Siegfred Flaviano, Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) chief, said Wednesday they have formulated a new version of the ordinance that sets more stringent regulatory measures for the utilization of various resources at the town’s lakes – Sebu, Seloton and Lahit.

Dubbed the Lake Sebu Fisheries Code, he said the proposed ordinance includes rehabilitation, protection, conservation and sustainability mechanisms for the three lakes.

“The proposed code mainly provides for the proper identification of fishery zones and areas for other purposes or activities within the lakes,” he said in a media forum.

Flaviano said they submitted the proposed code early last month to the Sangguniang Bayan of Lake Sebu that immediately classified the measure as urgent.

He said among the key amendments that they proposed was the reduction of the fishery or aquaculture area at the lakes to 10 percent.

The existing ordinance allows 35 percent of the lakes’ area for aquaculture purposes, contrary to the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code that only allows the utilization of 10 percent of a lake’s surface area for such purpose, he said.

The three lakes – Sebu (354 hectares), Seloton (48 hectares) and Lahit (24 hectares) – are known for their high quality tilapia.

Based on their assessment, Flaviano said the fish cages in Lake Sebu presently cover 19 percent of its waters.

Lake Sebu, which hosts a total of 4,800 fish cages or around 1,800 more than its carrying capacity, has 371 registered fish cage operators while Seloton has 52, he said.

In Lake Sebu, the official said the fish cages already cover 70.99 hectares of the lake or 35.99 hectares more than the allowable area as provided for in RA 8550.

Last week, the municipal government of Lake Sebu reported that a total of 68.219 metric tons of tilapia worth around P5.2 million had been devastated due to the fish kill in the last three weeks.

Lake warden Rudy Muyco said some 54 fish cage operators were already affected by the fish kill, which occurred in eastern and western sections of the lake.

Muyco said the latest fish kill, which is the first this year, was 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 cause the fish kill.

Under the proposed code, he said a supervisor for the three lakes will be designated by the municipal government to ensure the proper implementation of its regulatory mechanisms.

He said the lake supervisor will mainly see to it that the 10 percent allowable fishery area is maintained and all regulatory measures are properly enforced.

The current two lake wardens appointed by the local government will be working under the lake supervisor, he said.

Flaviano said the lake supervisor should have the technical capability when it comes to the management of the lake, especially in conducting limnological or freshwater studies.

“The supervisor also needs to have the courage and will to implement all the regulatory measures and go after the violators,” he added.

The official said they also proposed for the revision of the rates for taxes and fees related to fish cage operations.

He said the P1 annual levy per fish cage being imposed by the local government on the operators is no longer reasonable and should be increased.

“We’ve also set some measures to ensure that the prohibition on the sub-leasing of fish cages is properly enforced and make sure that local residents will really benefit from the lake’s resources,” he said.

Flaviano added that due to the sub-leasing of fish cages by some license holders, around 80 percent of the fish cages are now owned by businessmen and even companies based outside the municipality.

He added that most of the area’s fish cage operators are based in this city, Koronadal City and Davao City.