SORSOGON CITY, Sorsogon—For small-scale fishermen in Sorsogon province, April through August is the best time for fishing because during this period, the sea there is calm and clear. Unfortunately, it is also the worst because divers engaged in cyanide fishing, who use compressors in order to stay underwater longer, are at their most active during that period.
According to fisherman Albert Habulan, fish used to abound in the area; a catch of assorted fish weighing 5 kilos was considered weak. But in 2007, the divers came into the picture.
These divers came with motorboats equipped with compressors that supply air through a hose. These boats could outrun regular motorboats, allowing them to escape possible arrest.
Jose Estipona, another fisherman, said the noise of the compressors used to be audible from the coastal villages of Prieto Diaz, Gubat, Barcelona and Bulusan. But not anymore, after the compressors were connected to a submerged Volkswagen muffler while supplying air to the divers. The motorboats are also unlit.
Each of these motorboats is armed and has an eight-man crew, according to Habulan. He said fishermen like him cower and tiptoe in their boats whenever the motorboats are nearby.
“Kahit nauna kami sa dagat, umuuwi na kami pag dumating na sila. Ano pa ang matitira para sa amin pag bumaba na ang kanilang busero? [Even if we arrive at the sea first, we return home when they arrive. What else is left for us when the divers go down?]” Habulan said.
According to him, the divers are equipped with flashlights and cyanide in probing corals for fish. Lapu-lapu, samaral, betilya and lobsters, as well as other precious marine species, are especially favored.
Habulan, Estipona and other fishermen learned about the motorboats and the men manning these after befriending a former diver from Rapu-Rapu who shared his exploits with them.
As a result of cyanide fishing, Habulan said he and his fellow fishermen have to fish farther away from land. This means added costs since more fuel is needed.
He also said that many fishermen have resorted to collecting crablets.
Barangay councils may have banned the collection of crablets, but where will poor fishermen go to eke out a living, Habulan asked. For now, village officials are reluctant to deal with them because of their plight.
According to local crablet dealer Ernesto Estrabela, crablets sell for 75 cents to P2 each, depending on the crab growers’ demand in Pampanga province, where the tiny crustaceans are shipped to. He estimated that Sorsogon can dispatch about 50,000 crablets a day during peak season, during the cold months.
The number of crablets declines during the summer but the price goes up, the dealer said.
Joselito Domdom, president of Seagrass, Mangrove and Coral, a fisherfolk group in Prieto Diaz, said cyanide fishing needs to be addressed immediately before the damage to the sea worsens.
Local government units are responsible to run after illegal fishing activities in their respective areas, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Thanks to cyanide fishing, a 5-kilo catch of assorted fish is now considered strong or lucky, according to Habulan.
“Malaki ang perwisyo nito [cyanide fishing],” he said. “Kung hindi ito matitigil, mas maghihirap ang susunod na henerasyon ng mga mangingisda [The trouble brought by cyanide fishing is big. If it continues, the next generation of fishermen will suffer more].”