Exhausted fishing ground in Sorsogon turns into thriving fish reserve

Bantay-Dagat volunteers in a motor boat passes by the wharf in Juban, Sorsogon. Another motor boat ferrying visitors is docked. (Oliver Samson)

JUBAN, Sorsogon—Until the late 1990s, illegal fishers exploded dynamite in this 110-hectare fishing ground, which resulted in the devastation of fish and their natural habitat, said Jenny Gabito, a local government technologist.

But the town had shifted its energy in 2001 toward the transformation of the exhausted fishing ground into a sprawling fish reserve, Gabito told the BusinessMirror.

Former Juban Vice Mayor Aristeo Alindogan sighed as he recounted how unforgiving illegal fishers looted the area employing destructive fishing methods. He said those men were armed.

Roughly an hour motorboat-drive off the shore of Sitio Baybay in Barangay Tinago, the area was lined with buoys and bamboo markers in 2001 to establish the reservation’s domain, Gabito said.

Only allotted a small annual budget to revive 110 hectares of a dying marine habitat, they sought supplemental monetary aid from different sources, she said.

“The local government allocated only about P300,000 yearly for the maintenance of the sanctuary,” she said. “We looked for assistance from other agencies.”

The local government subsidy went to maintenance, deployment of buoys, fabrication of concrete and wooden fads or artificial fish shelters, and other expenses, Gabito said.

Concrete and bamboo fads were thrown into the water to resuscitate the dynamite-wornout fish habitat, he said. It is in these underwater structures where fish mate, give birth and shelter the young.

To seal the area, clusters of iron with protruding curve edges were sunk in the water that would shred fishing nets if someone tried to poach the fish reserve, Alindogan told.

An ordinance was passed to protect the area, prohibiting fishermen to fish behind the sanctuary line, he added.

“The ordinance, however, has tolerance especially to marginal fishermen,” he assured. “From the shore, they are allowed to fish up to the 20-hectare buffer zone immediately outside the sanctuary line.”

About after only two years of rehabilitation, the fish reserve had already sent droves of mature fish to the open sea, Gabito reported.

Fishermen reported catching hundreds of kilos of kanduli. Unlike before, they rarely spotted the fish in a year when the area was still going through the devastation of dynamite fishing.

Gabito said fish bred and raised in the reservation make their way out after reaching maturity age. It is the ripe time for fishermen to harvest the sanctuary-grown fish, she added.

Lapu-lapu, kanduli, pampano, and talakitok are only a few of the varieties of fish reproducing at the protected reserve, Gabito said.

According to Alindogan, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) reported that the number of marine species found in the Juban Fish Sanctuary is almost 100.

Gabito’s group had strewn the fish reserve with seeds of 1,000 kilos of shells, including kapis, that were provided by the BFAR.

“We planted them in 2005,” she said. “Today not only Juban harvests them. The shells have spread all over Sorsogon Bay.”

She claimed that kapis is abundant in the waters of Juban and stock is available in their office.

The regrowt of corals in the area was seen after a decade, she said.

The fish sanctuary and its facilities are patrolled and guarded by Bantay Dagat volunteers, she said.

Facilities include guard houses, a 90-meter concrete view deck, a floating nipa hut, and a small wharf.

Alindogan said Juban is the only town in Sorsogon with marine life reservation as big as 100 hectares.

Noel Habla, a fisherman in barangay Tinago, receives the payback in two ways. He earns from catching the mature fish which had left the sanctuary and from tourists who ride in his motorboat to Sablayan where the sanctuary is located.

Renato Ati, a fisherman in Casiguran, extolled it, saying that not only Juban is reaping the result, but also the neighboring towns of Casiguran, Magallanes and Castilla.

He also praised the strict enforcement of fishing ordinances in Juban.

After a decade of successfully regrowing the corals and restoring the fish, the local government of Juban is now eyeing the transformation of the fish reserve into an ecotourism spot, Gabito said.

In 2011, the fish sanctuary started to catch the attention of tourists, she said.

A portion of the fish reserve is being planned and reserved for scuba diving where foreign and local guests can enjoy underwater exploration, Gabito said.

Some foreigners have already seen Sablayan accompanied by former Gov, Sally Lee, she said. Candidates for the Miss Sorsogon pageant have also visited the island, she said.

The original article is published at Business Mirror on May 8, 2013.

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