Unsustainable fishing practices blamed for dwindling catch in Lake Mainit

MAINIT, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews/01 October) – The population of pijanga or white goby in Lake Mainit appeared to have declined in recent years based on the dwindling catch of fishermen, a phenomenon that has been blamed on unsustainable fishing practices and several other causes.

Pijanga is the dominant fish species in the lake that straddles the towns of Jabonga and Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte and Alegria and Mainit in Surigao del Norte.

But Joel Salino, a fisherman in this town said his catch had reduced over the years. “Before we could get like 25 kilos a day or more but now we can get 5-10 kilos, a way low,” he said.

He blamed the dwindling catch on the practice of fishermen of getting “saguyon” (fingerlings of pijanga), which he said will further reduce the number of pijanga if not stopped.

“Some people would love to eat fried saguyon. One piece of saguyon the size of a pancake has 1500 heads of tiny pijanga,” he said.

Salino added hundreds of fishermen like him will lose their source of income if the pijanga population continued to decrease.

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

“So far makahatod pa man gihapon ang mga mangingisda og pijanga diri sa merkado. Wala pa gyod magnihit ang supply,” (So far fishermen can still deliver pijanga here in the market. Supply has not really become scarce) said a vendor in Mainit Public Market.

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”.

The study said pijanga is the dominant fish in the lake, but its number has 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.

When asked for comment, Mainit Mayor Ramon B. Mondano told MindaNews said he had no details on how much the fish population had decreased.

“It’s sad that the number is decreasing, but actually, it’s not that sudden, it’s just slowly decreasing,” he said.

The mayor cited the presence of more fishermen in the lake as the cause. “Before, there were fewer people who fish in the lake compared today,” he said.

Mondano also said another factor could be climate change.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-Caraga has been studying the declining pijanga catch in the lake.

Nerio Casil, regional director of BFAR-Caraga said the study was still ongoing and they didn’t have the figures yet.

Casil said they are proposing a moratorium on catching pijanga in all the towns surrounding the lake to address the problem.

He said they are also studying the impact of climate change on the lake particularly on the fish.

He admitted that BFAR had no data yet on the number of fishermen around the lake, as they were still completing the Fish Registration Program for these towns. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)