Spearfishing in world-class Sarangani dive spot stirs outrage

MAASIM, Sarangani (MindaNews/04 September) – Outrage gripped this town known for its world-class scuba diving spot after scuba and free (breath and hold) divers speared to death giant fishes allegedly inside a 43.85-hectare marine protected area (MPA).

The controversy swirled after American expatriate John Heitz re-posted on social media photographs of spearfishing enthusiasts posing with their catches supposedly inside Susan Beach Resort in Barangay Tinoto here.

A broken patrol boat of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources lies useless at the coast of Barangay Tinoto, host of the 43.85-hectare marine protected area in the town of Maasim, Sarangani province in this photo taken on August 31. MindaNews photo by BONG SARMIENTO

“The MPA is a no-take zone, no fishing should be taking place there,” the foreigner, who is based in General Santos (Gensan) City and engaged in tuna trading, told MindaNews.

The catches of the affluent spear fishing enthusiasts include a giant trevally believed to be 10 to 20 years old and dog tooth tuna, said Heitz, who is married to a Filipina.

The spearfishers mostly came from Davao City and aided by some contacts from Gensan, he said.

The foreigner stressed that the “Bantay Dagat” created by the local government unit of Maasim is sleeping on their job.

On Saturday, MindaNews went to the village and saw locals fishing at the MPA. There were no maritime police or authorities who accosted them. A broken patrol boat of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources was seen anchored at the coast.

The MPA covers the Tinoto reef where healthy corals thrive, providing sanctuary to the endangered “Mameng” (Napoleon wrasse), groupers and bump head parrot fish, among other species.

Marilou Lim, Susan Beach supervisor, denied the spearfishing enthusiasts stayed at their resort.

“It’s possible the photos were edited,” she claimed in the vernacular.

Owing to the spearfishing controversy, she said the resort decided to ban guests with scuba diving and spearfishing gears.

As of 9 am Wednesday, Heitz’s post on the controversial spearfishing incident generated at least 419 comments and 84 shares.

The comments include warning Heitz to take down his post, otherwise he will be charged with cyber bullying, among others.

Heitz said he will not apologize or take down his post.

Scuba diver Michelle Solon, Sarangani Provincial Tourism Council chair, also slammed the scuba and free diving spear fishing enthusiasts for parachuting to the province to conduct their “just-for-fun” activity.

Since many local people heavily rely on fishing as their livelihood, the MPAs in the province should be kept as protected nurseries and sanctuaries for the fishes to multiply, she said.

“It should never be an area for them to be fished out. They can do it outside the MPA or out in the deep (blue sea),” Solon, wife of Sarangani Gov. Steve Chiongbian Solon, told MindaNews.

Paul Partridge, owner of Lemlunay Resort, which operates the South Point Divers, stressed the need to strengthen law enforcement in the MPA for both locals and tourists.

He urged a municipal-wide ban on spearfishing, especially when divers are using scuba tanks or compressed air.

Partridge said there is no law banning spearfishing in the country. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)