In early January 2003, I had the opportunity
to go the Philippines - my wife is Filipina and one side of
her family was having a reunion. Towards the end of October
2002, certain information about the Marine Aquarium Council
was being discussed, with various interesting posts appearing
Central and at #reefs
speaker presentation and their Industry forum.
At the time, I had planned to spend a few days diving at one
of the resorts in Anilao or Puerto Galera. Intrigued by the
posts, I thought about instead investigating some of the actual
collection practices while I was there. I knew of only one
other hobbyist/industry person who had gone there, JT Croteau,
so I turned to him for advice. In typically convoluted fashion,
I was put in touch with a friend of a friend of an exporter
who knew someone who knew some net-caught fishermen. What
follows is an account of my trip
from original source provided by Reefbase.1
Following a seven-hour ride up from Manila,
Ferdinand Cruz pulls off the main road north of Subic Bay,
onto a two-tracker. The two-tracker had no road name, no sign
whatsoever. A foreigner would never know it actually led to
a resort. We continue down it slowly, the land changing from
grassland to rice paddies and back. At one point, we reach
a man pulling his carabao, the native Philippine water buffalo.
Notoriously slow, we stop behind it, as the man tried in vain
to pull the animal off the road - there was no way to pass
it as the road was one lane, elevated about three feet above
rice paddies on either side of the road. We were going nowhere.
The man grew increasingly frustrated as the carabao got irritated
and stopped dead in its tracks.
This doesn't seem to be at all out of place
to me - we are in the country, what people living in Manila
would refer to as "The Provinces." We are stopped,
watching the man match wits with beast. So far, the beast
is winning. Suddenly, the man drops his rope (the other end
of which is strung through the nose of the carabao and knotted),
walks to the left side of the carabao, and, with Herculean-effort,
tips the carabao over. Our truck erupted into laughter as
we watched the carabao fall over sideways, down the side of
the road, and land with a huge splash in the rice paddy. The
man makes a sign, seeming to say that he was sorry for holding
us up. We didn't mind as it was the first honest-to-goodness
cow-tipping (or carabao-tipping) we had ever seen. Even the
carabao didn't seem to mind.
We arrive at a hut inside a compound. I
can see that some work has gone into this place - the area
is fenced in. A rather large Jeepney with the words "Fire
Fish" emblazoned on back is parked in front, alerting
me to the fact a fish collector lives here. Ferdie announces
that this is Roger's home. Roger does not live in abject poverty
- he is actually relatively well off compared to many others
in this province. Roger owns a Jeepney, from money he earned
working as a fish collector in Hawaii many years back (Figure
1 below). He owns a cell phone for his business. His home
consists of thin cement outer walls that have never tasted
paint, an uneven cemented floor, small crooked holes fitted
with wooden slat that serve as windows, a door made of flimsy
patched together wooden slabs, and a rusted tin roof full
of holes patched by tar. The roof has no ceiling or insulation,
so the interior of the house is oven hot during summer. I
cannot imagine that the roof doesn't leak a lot during the
monsoon season. At the side of the house under a mango tree
you can see their kitchen consisting of a makeshift wooden
stove and a table where the family dines during fine weather.
The restroom is an outhouse on the other side of the house.
Some of the land is cultivated, and there are many chickens
running around. Roger greets us warmly and introduces us to
the clan. We sit outside in the chairs of honor - plastic
patio chairs, a luxury here, and chat about fish collection.
1. Roger Hernandez standing next to his family Jeepney.
He was nicknamed
Firefish for his ability to catch so many.
Roger is the leader of a local Marine Ornamental
fisheries collective. There are 37 or 38 fishermen who form
the collective, not all of whom are actively fishing right
now. Many opt to fish when there is no other work available
to them. Much of the work comes in the form of manual labor.
In the year 2000, the Philippines passed a law mandating a
minimum wage equal to 250 pesos per day for construction work.
I understand it was recently raised to 265 pesos per day.
At the current exchange rates of 53.5 pesos per 1 US dollar,
the rate is roughly $5/day. Here in Zambales, no one pays
that much. A typical wage is 60 to 80 pesos per day. You can
understand that this does not go very far. Some days they
go hungry from lack of money for food.
I ask Roger how much money he makes fishing
in a typical week. He hesitates for a bit, saying it is hard
for him to generalize. Some factors are beyond their control,
for example, the weather, etc. Ferdie breaks into Tagalog,
the Philippine national language, telling him that I'm only
looking for a ballpark figure. Roger nods, thinks a bit, then
says maybe 500 pesos per week ($9.35) in good weather. Some
weeks, he loses money. He earns a little by using his jeepney
to transport fish.
When I ask his opinion about exporters,
he laughs, looks around a bit, looks at Ferdie, then back
to me, as if searching for an answer or trying to decide whether
to be diplomatic or truthful. Filipinos do not like to make
direct criticism of others- it is considered rude. Some are
okay, he finally admits. Most of the others he wouldn't deal
with willingly if he had a choice. He prefers to deal exclusively
with Marivi Laurel of Aquarium Habitat. He explains that Marivi's
screeners never use their hands and never touch the fish.
They will spend several hours with him, using freshwater-dipped
nets or small plastic containers to segregate or move the
Roger speaks of some screeners at other
exporters who openly ask for cash. In such cases, he says
that you have to pay; otherwise the screener will reject 30-40%
of the fish. He continues that the exporters will not return
these "rejects," and that not a single one of these
"rejects" has ever survived a week. When he returns
a week later, he is inevitably told "Oh, those fish all
With respect to "rejects", again
Roger says that Marivi is the only exporter he trusts. She
normally keeps rejects and tries to rehabilitate them. If
they do not improve within a week, she sends them back to
Subic and has them released in the bay. He concludes that
there had been many times when Marivi has asked him personally
to release whole boxes of fish back into Subic Bay. Ferdinand
tells me that he thinks Roger actually releases them into
the no-take zone designated in the Palauig Collection Area
Ferdinand interrupts us to say that Roger's
wife will need to head to the market before they close in
order to purchase our dinner. We hand her some money and proceed
to transfer the scuba gear into Roger's Jeepney.
We head to the place we are to spend the
night, Alta Beach Resort. When we pull up, the place looks
like a horror movie set. Not a single person was evident,
no lights were on, and no movement save a thin wisp of smoke
rising from one small open hut. Ferdie calls out, then goes
ahead and disappears into the night. I begin to think of Bates
Motel. Then a light comes on, and another, and someone who
looks nothing at all like Anthony Perkins comes out and shows
us to our rooms. Calling this a "Resort" is quite
a stretch. The room has no towels, no toilet paper, no toilet
seat, no hot water, no screens on the windows, no mosquito
nets, the rooms are nasty, smelling of neglect, mold and mildew.
Ceiling tiles are hanging down, revealing evident termite
damage to the roofing timbers. No bed sheets. Oh, and ants
in the bed. Can't forget those pesky little ants
stayed in some pretty low-end accommodations before, but this
was awful. Worst of all, the price is almost $25 US per night.
For that price, you can find three star hotels in the heart
of Manila. One night of this "Resort" was plenty.
On our walk down to the beach, we realize
that it must be toad mating season, as there were literally
hundreds of toads out, some as large as six inches long. The
property itself seemed nice enough. The smell of the ocean
breeze is sublime.
We head back to the room and I set up my
Nikonos for the collection trip the following day. Presently,
Ferdinand calls us for dinner. Chicken in a stew-like broth
with vegetables, rice, bananas, Coke, water, and steamed fish
is served. Upon closer examination I realize that the fish
was the largest Naso tang I had ever seen. It felt a bit strange
to eat an aquarium fish at first, but dipped in the local
vinegar with crushed hot peppers, it was quite delicious.
Ferdinand tells us that this is a local delicacy; this particular
fish is expensive here. He explains that it probably cost
30 pesos ($0.55) at the local market. Given that the local
daily pay rate is only 60-80 pesos, I understand.
The following morning, we wake up to the
sounds of roosters. Not just one rooster, or even a dozen.
It was more like four or five dozen roosters. One rooster
can't finish its "cock-a-doodle do" call, before
another two or three
join in. I feel like
I have barely slept. I get up and look out- there isn't even
the hint of pink in the horizon in any direction. I dig out
a clock and look at the time: 3:30 am. These roosters are
retarded, I think. I lay back down to try to sleep. I dream
briefly of a mountain of fried chicken, or at least wish I
did. Alta Beach Resort and Chicken Farm is what the sign should
When dawn finally broke, I got up and started
getting everything ready for the trip ahead.
Because Roger had planned to make a run
to Manila the night before, the bancas (boats) had been brought
into the river basin and tied up at high tide. Now it was
low-tide, or close to it, and the bancas were high and dry.
We wait for the tide to rise and finally, the fishermen head
back to the river to haul them down far enough to reach water
deep enough to actually run the engines. Instead of the 9am
start, it was closer to 11am.
While we wait to head out, we eat breakfast,
and talk some more about their situation.
Roger shows us the logbook required by
MAC; the binder was over two inches thick and every document
was in English (Figure 2 below). I ask Roger, "How many
of the collectors speak English?" "Very few,"
he responds. (Even Roger is not exactly what I would call
perfectly fluent in English;- there were instances where we
had trouble communicating. I was lucky that Marelet is still
somewhat fluent in Tagalog and we could work things out.)
I learn that, for the most part, the collectors do not really
understand what they are filling out in the MAC logbook. This
is not difficult to understand when you realize that the collectors'
education level is between the 2nd
and 4th grade.
2. Note the thickness of the logbook that is required
by the Marine Aquarium Council. Most of the fishermen
can barely fill out the forms due to their educational
levels. The entire book is in English. It was difficult
for me to understand why it was not translated into
Tagalog for the collectors.
Based on this reality (that most of the
collectors cannot read and speak basic English) I find it
striking that the MAC logbooks were not translated into Pilipino,
the national language based on the Tagalog dialect. From my
perspective, you can pretty much use Pilipino and Tagalog
interchangeably; they both mean the same thing. In other areas,
when I spoke with indigenous tribes, they told me that they
speak their native tongues inside the villages, but that with
anyone outside, they are forced to speak "Tagalog."
Never once did I hear anyone call it "Pilipino."
This morning, the temperature is in the
upper-70's, but to Roger, this is bone-chillingly cold. He
laughs and admits that he hates diving for fish at this time
of year because it is so cold. In kind, I have to laugh -
the only reason I would wear a wetsuit is due to the fact
that I want to protect myself from coral cuts and abrasions,
not due to the cold. He laughs as I share this, insisting
it really is too cold. I look down and notice that Roger has
several spots on his legs that, to my eyes, appear to be cuts
and abrasions from coral. I decide not to press the matter.
We return to the topic of exporters: He
tells me a story about one of the larger ones. They called
Roger and told him that they had a large order that needed
to be filled. They gave him a list of fish and quantities
and told him to bring them down to Manila in two days. Roger
immediately contacted the collective and they decided to do
their best to fill the order. That afternoon and the next
day were spent out on the reef, collecting the fish. This
is somewhat dangerous as they spent most of the daylight hours
underwater, which would severely increase their odds of getting
the bends. That evening they packed the fish into plastic
bags, boxed them, and loaded them into the Jeepney. Next came
the long ride down to Manila, 6 hours if the traffic is light.
When they arrived at the exporter, they
were told, "Oh, you are too late. We had another collector
just deliver all that we needed. We're pretty stocked up right
now, I'm not sure if we can even take the fish
Ok, I think we have enough room, but we really don't
need them. I can't give you that much for them
In the end, Roger and crew didn't even
earn enough money to cover the gas to Manila and back. In
fact, he told me that the loss was more than the previous
two week's worth of wages.
He continues another story, when an exporter's
screener demanded (this is done secretly) a payment up-front.
He refused. The screener took most of his fish, definitely
all of the lower-end ones. Then he got to the Imperator angels
(what everyone calls 'blue faces')- Roger had brought down
three of them, and claims they were perfect. Blue-face Angels
are considered the 'money fish' as they get a good price for
the collector. The screener rejected them, saying that they
looked weak, but that they would put them into their quarantine
system. Come back next week, he was told. Of course, when
he returned, he was told that the fish had died. Those three
fish were worth as much or more than the rest of the consignment.
When I asked him what he thinks really happened to the fish,
he shrugs and goes silent. I can tell he wants to say more.
He finally says that as far as he sees, nothing in their quarantine
system ever lives. Meaning that any fish he has left with
them, he has never gotten paid for. They all "die".
He suspects that he has just been had, because he has refused
to pay the screener the demanded kickback.
I ask about cyanide use. Roger tells me
he was trained in nets years ago, and has never looked back.
He sees how cyanide has hurt the reef, and has been against
its use for years. Some of the fishermen in the collective
have used it - you could consider them reformed. I would have
to be honest that, when we were at his house the day before,
I did look around quite a bit, looking for any squirt bottles
or other signs of cyanide use. I saw none. What I did see
were a few barrier nets and hand nets. For all intents and
purposes, Roger seems to be the real thing: an honest net-caught
fisherman. I asked him about cyanide use by other collectors
not in the collective. Here he hesitates, and admits that
he honestly doesn't know. Ferdinand made a comment to me when
reviewing this article- he said that he thought Roger and
I might have misunderstood each other. To quote Ferdie, "He
(Roger) said he knew that some of them used to use cyanide
but now only a few use it and he knows them, but all of them
were hoping that things will change with the entry of MAC."
(Edited slightly for grammar).
Finally, we get word that the bancas (outrigger
boats) are down at the beach shore. We hop in the Jeepney
and drive down there, where I see three very small bancas.
I help bring things down to the boats, including my scuba
gear, Nikonos setup and poor man's Pelican case (Why, an Instant
Ocean bucket, of course!). I take some photos of the bancas
while the gear is distributed and re-distributed, the bancas
filled up with gasoline, and then we are ready to get underway
(Figures 3, 3a, 3b, 3c below).
3. Close-up of outrigger.
3a. This fisherman covered his face and body as
much as possible to protect
himself from the sun. Note the two homemade spearfishing
guns in the front
of the boat. The bamboo piece is used to steer the banca.
3b. Note the large round holding net. I like the
nice plastic gasoline tank.
3c. A typical outrigger banca. The outriggers are
made of bamboo and very thick
monofilament line. Apparently, bamboo bends with heat.
To digress for a moment, I have to dispel
one of the great myths that have erupted on the Internet.
People have seen pictures of cyanide fishermen - many of these
photos have the fishermen covering their faces. The automatic
assumption on our part is that they are covering their faces
because they want to hide their identity. Maybe that is partly
true, but the main reason why they cover their faces and head
is because it is so incredibly bright. The fishermen around
me are already tanned to a deep, dark brown; they are just
trying to protect their face and eyes from the light. It is
not meant to hide their identity (see Figure
As we take off and start out, we go past
several reef areas. We are behind a barrier reef. I can see
the waves breaking onto it off to the north - my right. The
wind is not very strong, so the waves do not have whitecaps.
However, there are times when the waves are quite gentle,
yet pronounced. I guess you would call it "rolling seas",
but there were times where I could not see the banca in front
of us. At the bottom of the trough, you descend into your
own little world, with no land visible around you. At the
top of the wave, everything magically reappears. As we head
out, we pass by some human-powered bancas, very small craft
with one or two people armed with paddles. I look back and
wonder if I could paddle out a mile and back like these people
The trip out takes maybe 45 minutes to
an hour. When we reach the collection area, the boats all
stop near each other. I didn't see them throw down any anchors.
Mostly the divers busied themselves as I did- putting on whatever
gear they had, putting out the hookah hoses, and getting the
hookahs started. Various nets and bags and containers came
I started to get in with all my gear and
learned something very important- bancas are, despite the
outriggers, quite tippy, almost as bad as a canoe. I sent
Roger over the side as I was getting out, as the boat itself
tipped to a larger angle than it should have. I felt like
such an idiot, but Roger was stoic- he laughed about it later
as I apologized profusely. Up top, the hookah operators worked
hard to keep their lines from getting tangled and crossed.
Their hookahs are locally fabricated out of air tire compressors
or from truck's brake compressors hooked to 50 meters of plastic
hose. Once on, they threw the tubing out into the water- it
looked ramshackle, but they obviously knew what they were
doing. Very surprising to me was the fact that none of the
tubing got tied up or tangled. The tubing itself is thicker
than aquarium airline tubing. I suspect that the inside diameter
was 0.25 of an inch. The collectors jumped in, swam straight
to the tubes, tied the end of the tubes to their waists clenched
the end part between their teeth and started down. The pressure
you put on the tubing while biting on it will regulate the
Outside the banca, I put on my fins, grabbed
my Nikonos, fired up both strobes, double-checked the settings,
and started my descent. There were a couple of things that
struck me: 1) the visibility wasn't great due to the waves
coming in. Since this will make the pictures dicey, I adjust
the settings a bit on the Nikonos. 2) The reef is easily visible,
and there is a noticeable current coming in. The reef itself
has a bit of a spur and groove structure, perfect for barrier
netting. The reef is not super-healthy: I would estimate that
the coral cover was roughly 20-30%. In one area, there was
a ton of breakage all piled together. It was tough to tell
if this was due to blast fishing or storm damage. All of the
coral here was dead and algae-covered. I give up trying to
tell what caused this, and start to follow the collectors.
One of the nets being set up was two bamboo
circles about 0.75-1 meter in diameter that were tied together
into a netting cylinder (see Figure 4 below & see earlier
Figure 3b). The
edges were gathered at the top and bottom. A rope section
was tied off at the bottom, in about 40 feet of water. The
top of the net had a short bit of rope, then a float. The
entire cylinder opened up and was used as a collection station
by several collectors. In the current, the cylinder laid mostly
on its side.
4. Holding net - used by the collectors to hold
fish so they do not have to
empty their bags until they go up.
Some of the collectors used large plastic
bags to hold their fish after capture while others used mesh
bags that held containers such as plastic jars with lids,
butter containers, etc.; these all had obvious puncture holes
for water exchange. These guys all had on belts, under which
they tucked the bags while they set their nets (Figures 5
& 5a below).
5. Net full of plastic containers used for more
aggressive fish. You can also see the hookah apparatus
5a. This is a typical posture the collector uses
before he swims down to scoop up the fish in the barrier
net. Here he is holding the bag - I only realized that
I never got a shot of one of the fishermen with his
bag under his belt after I returned home. Note the homemade
fins and the way the hookah hose is used.
If you have ever seen any video of barrier
net fishing being done, it is likely the same clip I have
seen. The collectors are Westerners, and the barrier nets
are quite large. The video I watched had a net about 20-30
feet long and at least 6 feet high. Under ideal conditions,
with absolutely no current, those nets might be okay to use.
But in our current location, current wasn't strong at all,
and I could already tell that such nets would be useless,
and would probably cause a lot of coral damage as the nets
would be blown into the coral heads.
Here in Palauig, most of the collectors
use barrier nets that are between 18-22 inches high and roughly
15 feet wide. The netting itself can be either machine- or
hand-made. Ferdinand explained that some of the fishermen
in Palauig, like Batangas, made the best nets he had ever
seen- they were made with light monofilament and were hand-knotted.
It takes about three months of spare time to make a square
section that is roughly one meter by one meter. Thus, the
fishermen mostly used machine-made netting. The bottom of
these nets is a thick-test monofilament line, threaded through
the netting, with lead sinkers strung on it every few centimeters.
The top of the netting is similar, with thick-test monofilament
strung through the netting, but instead of sinkers, they used
a flotation device. I had to laugh when I realized that these
flotation devices were, in fact, cut up, recycled flip-flops.
Ferdinand later explained that he had looked for commercial
parts, but that they were more than ten times the cost, so
the fishermen essentially all bought new shoes and used their
old ones for the nets.
A collector hangs above a groove, in a
spur and groove formation, looking down the groove into the
current. He notes how the fish are out feeding and how they
are bunched together. He spots a likely group for capture.
He starts swimming into the current, moving forward slightly.
His prey is ahead about 15 feet and maybe 20 feet below him.
He grips the barrier net and starts to let it drop. From the
behind and to the side, the strategy makes perfect sense.
The middle of the net hangs down in an almost perfect V form.
The current makes it dangle backwards, towards his feet. As
he swims towards his prey, the net is strung out further and
further until the collector is just holding the ends of the
net. Below him, the base of the V is centered on the groove,
and is now hanging down past his feet. He moves closer and
closer, and then drops the net. It floats down smoothly, blocking
the path straight up into the groove. As he lets go, he bursts
forward, behind the fish. Some dart down, straight into the
barrier net. Others bounce upward in the water column. The
collector tries to coax these into the net, but they refuse,
swimming up and just over it to safety. Quickly, the collector
dives down to the net and scoops up the fish and deposits
them into a large plastic bag (Figures 6, 6a, 6b, 6c below).
He smiles at me, posing with his catch.
6. The collector releases the net as it trails behind
him, setting it across a groove formation.
6a. With the barrier net set in position, the collector
heads in to scoop up the fish with his hand net.
6b. In this close-up, you can see the two fish he
6c. One of the two fish being deposited into the
plastic holding bag.
After putting the bag back into his belt,
he dives down again to the net. Here comes the hard part -
picking it up again. Most of the net is on reef rock and comes
off easily. Some parts of it have gotten tangled into coral.
Most of the corals suffer no visible damage, although I am
sure there is some slight tissue damage (Figures 6d, 6e below).
6d. Here the collector works to free his barrier
netting from the coral.
6e. After scooping up the fish, the hard part begins:
gathering the net without damaging the coral.
Once I saw the net get pretty tangled up
in a Seriatopora hystrix colony. The collector spent
several minutes trying to get the net out of the coral- I
am sure he wasn't aware I was watching as I had swum up behind
him. He spent more time pulling his net out of the coral than
I personally would have. In the end, he ended up breaking
off some of the S. hystrix. What I found interesting
was the fact that he stuck a few of the fragments into cracks
in the reef. This was obviously not for show, since I am positive
that he never knew I was there.
As I continued to follow the first collector,
I watched the same routine repeated again and again. There
were times where the collector set the net, only to watch
the fish all scramble in the opposite direction. Other times,
the fish would swim into the net, then turn around and swim
out. It was interesting watching a collector trying to herd
fish into a net. It is amazing that they are as successful
as they are.
As I swam around, I saw some coral damage.
One area in particular was badly hit. For a circle of about
30 feet, not a bit of coral was alive, and all was broken
off in a rubble field. All of the live rock was covered in
turf algae. It was not clear to me what caused this- it was
more a mound than a field. It is hard to believe it was blast-fishing
damage, but it was harder to believe it was storm damage deposits
either. Blast fishing typically leaves a crater depression
in the reef and this was a mound. Storm deposits would seem
to fill a hole, but this mound was on a spur, with a groove
to either side. It was somewhat cemented together, probably
via coralline and turf algaes (Figure 7 below).
7. A mound of dead coral, somewhat cemented together.
This is a spur, with a groove on either side of it.
For the life of me, I could not figure out what caused
this. There was no crater from blast fishing. It doesn't
appear to be storm damage either.
Most of the reef areas had about 20-30%
coral cover. There were a good number of smaller table corals,
mostly 2-3 feet for the largest ones. One smaller table coral
was sitting loose upside-down (Figure 8 below). Closer examination
did not reveal any major tissue damage on the side of the
coral; looking at the base, I could see some boring damage.
I would surmise that the coral broke off due to the structural
weakening of the base. There were no evident crowbar marks
8. An overturned table coral. It seemed that the
base weakened and it finally snapped.
What was troubling was the spotty bleaching
- in several spots, I saw what seemed to be evidence of cyanide
usage. What does this look like? Picture a coral sitting over
a hole- something perfect for fish to duck into. Everything
is bleached white above the hole and in the coral head. Not
the whole coral is bleached, but about a third of it is (Figures
9, 9a below). When I later described what I saw to Ferdinand
Cruz and the local fisheries officer, Pedro Aguillon, they
both agreed that it sounded like evidence of cyanide use.
9. Apparent cyanide damage to this Acropora
colony (upper right).
9a. Note the apparent cyanide damage to this coral
(mid left), now partially bleached. Underneath it was
a nice hiding spot for fish.
Ferdinand Cruz also had shown me a 'butterfly
net,' which is used for the collection of a few particular
species, especially certain damsels and firefish. It consists
of two sticks held parallel, with netting between them. I
swam around, looking for a collector using one, but all were
using barrier nets today. Of the fish collected, I did not
see a single firefish. Ferdinand had said that Roger was well
known for his firefish collection abilities- Roger told me
that he had once collected over 300 firefish on a single dive.Ferdie
says he meant in a single day.
Earlier I spoke of the black net used to
hold fish- I watched one of the collectors as he brought his
two bags of fish and emptied them into this holding net, then
go back to collecting with his barrier net. I found it interesting
that the collectors didn't go back up to the banca with their
catch, but held the fish in the holding net until they finished.
I never had an opportunity to ask why.
I finished my roll of film and surfaced
in order to change it. The other scuba diver, Frank, had gone
up earlier as his regulator was malfunctioning. As soon as
I surfaced, all the collectors did too. Roger was already
up and had a box of fish in the banca (Figure 10 below). I
got my scuba gear off and climbed into the banca. Next thing
I knew, all three of the hookah operators were reeling in
the hoses and the collectors were loading their fish on board,
getting ready to depart. I was a bit surprised, and asked
Roger why they were leaving so soon; I had a good deal of
air left in my first tank, and the second tank was sitting
there untouched. He complained that the weather was bad -
the waves were too high, so the fish were not really out.
10. A cooler full of fish. A day's work.
11 & 12. Here the collectors hold up a bag full
of the day's catch.
I have to admit I was disappointed. Later,
I learned from Ferdinand that Roger's wife had burned her
leg on a motorcycle tailpipe, and it had gotten infected.
Roger was worried about her, as she had been having shooting
pains up and down the leg due to the infection. Had we not
been there, Roger would not have gone out at all that day.
As soon as we were dropped off at the beach, Roger took his
wife to the hospital.
When we got back, I busied myself with
cleaning up the gear and started packing. Roger's daughter
brought lunch, and it was fried chicken. I fantasized that
it was one of the roosters that woke me up that morning at
3:30am, and bit into each chunk heartily. I have to say, it
was a great meal.
Soon afterwards, the local BFAR (Bureau
of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) official, Pedro Aguillon,
came by. We did not have as much time to speak with him as
we would have liked- we had to return the scuba equipment
to Subic by 5pm. He spoke of the area, of the collectors and
the problems they faced. Cyanide use had been going down steadily
in the area over the last few years. Recently, they had gotten
word about blast fishermen operating in the area. In talking
to the villagers, Pedro had obtained information that led
to the arrest and conviction of one of the blast fishermen.
Since the arrest, blast fishing had pretty much stopped, but
he was concerned about cyanide use. Why?, I asked. Because
cyanide is silent, he says. Blast fishing makes a big boom;
people can hear it all around. But when you are underwater
and quiet, no one knows what you are doing down there. He
is afraid that the blast fishermen have turned to cyanide
use instead, which actually makes his life more difficult.
He has to rely even more on the honest fishermen, leaning
on them to tell him about any telltale signs of cyanide use.
It is much harder to catch cyanide-fishermen, as there is
no real testing method now either, he says (Figure 13 below).
13. The local BFAR official, Pedro Aguillon, sitting
in his Jeepney.
Mr. Aguillon tells a story that is quite
moving. He knows all of the main people in the industry, and
is friends with several of them. Some of the cyanide pushers
are his peers, people he has shared beers with, or had over
to his home for dinner. But business can be ugly in the Philippines.
When he started getting too close, one of these friends turned
on him, and framed him as being one of the protectors of cyanide
fishing in the area. Upon his arrest, the cyanide collectors
had free rein on the reefs. Ultimately, he was able to prove
his innocence, and was freed from jail. He returned to his
position, and confronted his stunned 'friend.' He told me
that the damage done to the reefs in the short time he was
in jail had been enormous. The disgust on his face was there
for all to see.
It was quite evident that he cares deeply
about his job, and really wants to help the local fishermen,
whom he sees as "doing it right." As we leave Palauig,
I can't help but feel the same exact way.
P.S. As we were leaving, we ran into Roger
again, coming back from the hospital. He was lamenting the
fact that he somehow lost the spare tire for his Jeepney on
the way to the hospital, and couldn't find it on the way back.
He had a load of fish to bring down to Marivi, and now wasn't
sure he should risk it.
P.P.S. A couple of days later Ferdinand
called Roger to check up on his wife. Although the burn had
gotten infected, she had been prescribed some antibiotics
and was now doing fine. The shooting pains were gone and the
burn finally healing.
14. Here are a couple of shots of Roger's family.