Lake Sebu fish cage operators agree to dismantle excess cages

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 1 March) – Fish cage operators in Lake Sebu town in South Cotabato have agreed to voluntarily dismantle their excess fish cages in a bid to reduce the critical lake’s utilization to the allowable 10-percent limit.

Zaldy Artacho, Lake Sebu municipal agriculture office chief, said Wednesday such move was an offshoot of a series of meetings initiated by the local government in the wake of last month’s massive fish kill that destroyed around P126.5 million worth of tilapia.

He said some 464 fish cage operators signified support to the initiative in an assembly on Monday called by the local government.

The gathering was joined by officials and fishery experts from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Provincial Environment and Management Office, Office of the Provincial Agriculturist and the Mindanao State University-General Santos College of Fisheries.

Artacho said they initially presented to the group three alternatives to address the problem: the setting of a three to five-year moratorium on fish cage operations, the declaration and observance of an annual fish holiday, and the reduction of the lake’s utilization to 10 percent.

He said these recommendations were thoroughly discussed by the experts, and local stakeholders were eventually made to decide on the matter.

“The 10-percent utilization was the solution chosen. It was considered a ‘win-win’ decision to allow the lake to recover and at the same time sustain our (tilapia) industry,” he said.

Lake Sebu, which is the largest of the town’s three lakes, spans 354 hectares and covers barangays Bacdulong, Takunel and Poblacion.

With the implementation of the 10-percent utilization limit, the area’s fish cages and related structures should only cover 35.4 hectares.

Records show that fish cages now cover 23.19 percent or 82 hectares of the entire Lake Sebu.

Lake Sebu Mayor Antonio Fungan said the fish cage operators have no choice but to adopt the 10-percent utilization limit as it is provided by law.

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

“Besides, BFAR is coming out with an enforcement order for this so it’s only proper for us to comply now,” he said.

The mayor said that aside from this, the lake’s cleanup of water hyacinths and other wastes will continue.

The municipal government placed the entire municipality last month under the state of calamity as a result of the fish kill from January 27 to February 4.

The fish kill had destroyed around P1.4 million tons of tilapia from 4,944 fish cages owned by 464 operators situated in Barangays Poblacion, Takonel and Bacdulong.

Experts noted that the overcrowding of fish cages at the lake, the proliferation of water hyacinths and the use of commercial feeds by operators have caused its waters to deteriorate, triggering fish kills.

They were blamed for the occurrence of “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 causes the massive fish kill. (MindaNews)