Fishing for their future
It wasn’t always so difficult to be a fisherman, recalls Loreto Bollosa, 54, a tuna fisherman from Barangay (village) Fatima in Tabaco, Albay in the Philippines’ southern Bicol province.
He has been fishing in the waters of Bicol’s Lagonoy Gulf since he was seven years old, Bollosa says, inheriting the livelihood from his father. “This is the life into which I was born,” he says in Pilipino, the national language. The difference, however, is that Bollosa is not passing on the fisherman’s life to any of the five sons among his nine children. “It’s a hard life, especially now. That’s why I worked to be able to send them to school, so they don’t have to endure what I did.”
The tuna has always been there, and time was when the catch was abundant, he says. Then the catch declined, for several reasons, first and foremost being the rampant illegal fishing in the area, including dynamite, cyanide, and compressor fishing. Then, the big commercial fishing boats began showing up in the ’90s, and would often violate ordinances banning them from the locality’s municipal waters, providing artisanal handline fishermen like Bollosa with stiff competition. “Sometimes, just going out to fish, you’re already losing money,” he recalls. “You’re not sure if you’ll catch anything, and you’re already spending for gasoline. I would worry about that all the time.”
Now, Bollosa can worry a little less, not just because his children are almost done with their schooling, but because support has come in the form of a partnership among the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), local government, and private funders who are investing in Lagonoy Gulf’s fisheries to develop a new source of tuna, a globally prized marine resource. In the process, handline fishermen are getting a boost to their livelihood, as well as institutionalized encouragement to carry on with their traditional sustainable ways.
Tabaco City and the neighboring municipality of Tiwi are project sites for the Partnership Programme Towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST), a collaboration established in 2011 among WWF and private partners under the WWF Coral Triangle Programme and focusing on tuna fishery improvement in the Lagonoy Gulf, which covers Tiwi’s coastal waters. The project is funded by the German Investment and Development Agency (DEG), with support from Bell Seafood, Coop Switzerland, and Sea Fresh.
“This is a market-driven approach to fisheries management, looking at it from the perspective of the supply chain,” says Coral Triangle Programme Tuna Strategy Leader Jose “Jingles” Ingles. “We’re not just looking at the governance of fisheries on the ground and in the water, but we also solicit complementary help from the market forces to drive fisheries to become sustainable.”
Ever since WWF came with their information and education campaigns, Bollosa says, “They were able to focus on us and train us to preserve the fish and keep its quality longer. Before, it was a matter of catching as much as you can, and not caring about other fishermen. It was like a competition. We should help each other, and look at what’s best for everyone.”
At the peak of the fishing season, the fishers of Tabaco and Tiwi can earn as much as 20,000 pesos (about US$480) a week, which they must manage prudently until the next abundant season. Fishermen like Andres Dacullo of Barangay Putsan in Tiwi take on other jobs to tide them over, like construction work. Ruben Botalon of Barangay San Roque in Tabaco plows the extra money he and his son Rico make from tuna fishing into the family’s small sari-sari (sundries) store, stocked with basics like rice, canned goods, and even nylon string for handlines and bait for fishermen’s hooks.
With his earnings, Bollosa built a small concrete house for his family, and established a small piggery in his backyard, managed by his wife Leonilda. Any extra money goes to buying pigs, which can sell at a hundred pesos a kilo; when a pig grows to 80 kg after about three months of care, the couple can sell it for 8,000 pesos. With only two children left without college educations, the Bollosas can breathe a little easier. “Now, when we’re short, it’s our kids working in Manila who send us money,” Leonilda says.
Bollosa says that constant vigilance by the local Bantay Dagat (sea patrol) is essential to keep commercial fishermen out of Tabaco’s waters. That’s the job of Jose Condat, known as Manoy Joe (older brother Joe), 64, a fisherman from Barangay Putsan in Tiwi, Albay who works as a volunteer with the local Bantay Dagat.
A fisherman since 1963, Condat has seen first-hand how the entry of commercial fleets and the rise of illegal fishing have jeopardized local fishermen’s livelihoods. “Before commercial fishing, there was a lot to catch,” he recounts. “Then when they came, using cyanide and dynamite, the fish started dying. We couldn’t do anything because we were not organized.”
That’s why Condat, who has seven children, and has also sent some of them to school in Manila with his earnings from tuna fishing, became active in such groups as the Lagonoy Gulf Small Fishermen Federation and the Small Fishermen’s Association of Putsan, while serving as vice chairman of the Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (MFARMC) organized by the local government. It’s the Bantay Dagat’s job to make sure unregistered fishermen and unlicensed boats stay out of Tiwi’s waters.
He’s doing all this mainly for his grandchildren, Manoy Joe says. “For now, at my age, I pray that I can stay strong longer so I can help more people and help improve fishermen’s lives. That’s why we work in the Bantay Dagat, even without a salary—so we can safeguard the sea’s resources for the next generation.”
Text by Alya Honasan