Official says clearing of illegal structures in Lake Sebu complete by April

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 March)– Environment personnel in South Cotabato province are targeting to complete by next month the cleanup of illegal structures along the passageway and outlets of the critical Lake Sebu.

Siegfred Flaviano, South Cotabato Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) chief, said Wednesday they have so far demolished a total of 383 fish cages, resort cottages and other structures situated in the lake’s passageway or initial 20 meters from the lakeshore and near its outlets.

He said the clearing of the passageway is part of the initial phase of the ongoing massive cleanup of the lake that was launched last month by their office and the municipal government of Lake Sebu.

Among those demolished were 160 resort cottages and 108 fish cages that were operating without permits, he said.

“Most of these structures were situated in the 20-meter area from the lakeshore that serves as designated passageway for the pump boats,” Flaviano said in a radio interview.

Aside from the illegal structures, he said the demolition team also cleared around 420 cubic meters of water hyacinth or water lily from the lake.

He said the clearing covered around 10 hectares of the lake, specifically in portions of Sitio Bakikot and the barangay proper of Bacdulong in Lake Sebu.

The demolition team, which is composed of PEMO and municipal government personnel, launched the cleanup of the illegal lake structures last month based on an order issued by the municipal government and the provincial government of South Cotabato.

The demolition activity, which was endorsed by the Lake Sebu Rehabilitation and Development Council, aimed to address the lake’s deteriorating condition.

Flaviano said that after the clearing of the lake’s passageway, the cleanup will shift its focus on the demolition of the illegal fish cages.

Of Lake Sebu’s estimated 5,200 fish cages, around 1,300 were earlier identified for demolition.

He said most of the fish cages that were set for demolition are owned by unlicensed fish cage operators.

Out of the estimated 300 fish cage operators in the 354-hectare Lake Sebu, he said only 60 are considered legitimate or properly registered with the local government.

“We really need to cut down the number of fish cages at the lake to its 10 percent carrying capacity,” he said.

According to an assessment made by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the lake is considered overcrowded making major fish kills imminent.

It said about 21 percent of the lake is currently occupied by tilapia fish cages and other structures, most of which are considered illegal.

In January, 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 another fishkill.

The fish kill, which was 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. (MindaNews)