Plastic bags with sand and wooden shrimp bait used to catch squid in Siargao

ANAJAWAN, General Luna, Siargao Island (MindaNews / 10 March) — While non-government organizations are calling for a ban on plastic bags in the country’s surfing capital, General Luna, hundreds of plastic bags of white sand with wooden shrimp baits are dropped into the sea every day by the fisherfolk here, to catch squid.

Every day along the shore, one can find sitting under the shade of talisay trees groups of men, women and children scooping the white sand around them to put into small, transparent plastic bags that when tied, look like balls of sand.

“Naghimo og pabug-at para sa nukos” (We are making sinkers for our hooks to catch squid), the fisherfolk said.

As non-governmental organizations call on the municipal government to declare a ban on the use of plastic bags in the country’s surfing capital – General Luna in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte, men, women and children in the island village of Anajawan fill plastic bags with white sand to be dropped into the sea with wooden shrimp baits to catch squid. MindaNews photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

Juan dela Cruz (he requested that his real name be withheld), told MindaNews they have been doing this fishing method for “a very long time.”

“Pangnukos” is how the locals refer to it.

“We have been doing this since the early 1990’s,” he said, as he explained that catching squid is one of their main sources of livelihood.

Dela Cruz  said his average daily catch is five to 10 kilos of squid which he sells to the village buyer for 120 to 150 pesos per kilo. The buyer sells the fish to another buyer in mainland Siargao where it eventually ends up in resorts and restaurants.

When they go fishing about an hour’s sail from their village, Dela Cruz said they open the plastic bags and insert the wooden shrimp bait into the ball of sand. He said at least 400 to 500 of these plastic bags with sand and wooden shrimp baits are dropped.

As soon as the bag reaches a certain depth, he said, they pull the nylon of the fishing rod and the bag disintegrates, revealing the wooden shrimp bait that would attract the squid.

“We are a small village here and there are about 30 of us doing this,” he said.

Fisherfolk like dela Cruz believe this is better than using dynamite because “when you use dynamite you are putting yourself in danger.”

Dynamite fishing remains a problem in Siargao Island though its use has become less frequent.

Women fill plastic bags with sand to serve as sinkers that their fisherfolk-husbands use for “pangnukos” (to catch squid). Before dropping them into the sea, their husbands open the bags and insert a wooden shrimp bait into the sand. MindaNews photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

Because of unsustainable fishing practices then and now, average daily catch has significantly declined.

“Before, I used to get a lot but now just barely enough, sometimes it is not sufficient to pay for our gasoline expenses,” he said.

Village chief  Nilo Figuron could not be reached for comment despite several text messages and calls.

Nicky Blancada, a surfer from General Luna who regularly comes to Anajawan on organized trips with foreigners for surfing sessions, said the fisherfolk here have been using plastic bags to catch squid for years now.

He said he told the fisherfolk and the village chief to stop the practice as it will adversely affect the marine ecosystem.

“I even offered an alternative use of wrapper that is environmentally friendly,” he said.

Anajawan’s neighboring island villages — Suyangan, La Januza and Daku Island  do not use this fishing method.

Dr. AA Yaptinchay, director of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, a non-governmental organization advocating awareness on the conservation and protection of marine wildlife in the country said every drop of bag with sand in the sea can break corals and the volume used is significant enough to cause plastic pollution and affect marine life.

“There’s sand extraction which is illegal and the disposed plastic bag will be part of the marine debris and plastic pollution,” he said in response to a query sent to his Facebook account.

“There are potentially more than 30 marine mammals in the Philippines. However, populations of dolphins, whales and the dugong have declined due to serious threats such as pollution, and habitat destruction, poaching among others,” he said.

Yaptinchay added more threats are apparent in Philippine seas, affecting already dwindling populations of marine wildlife. He said vulnerable species will be affected by threats such as trash, habitat degradation, and increasing boat traffic. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)