Changing Seasons, Changing Fortunes: Securing a Stable Income Over Unpredictable Seas



Posted on 09 August 2013  | 
A fisherman and his wife standing in front of the concrete house they built from tuna fishing earnings. Albay, Philippines.
© Alanah Torralba / WWF Coral Triangle ProgramEnlarge
It’s been over six weeks since I started preparing for my next tuna tagging trip. The tuna peak season in Mindoro has started. But as with normal June weather, this coincides with the start of the monsoon period: boiling seas and gusty winds with rains and thunderstorms every evening.

We’ve had nine typhoons so far and thankfully, none really brought damage to land and lives, but as expected, they stopped fishing for prolonged periods.

How do these fishers and their families cope with such prolonged rest?

When fishing comes to a halt, fishing inactivity could extend for as long as 3-4 weeks uninterrupted. Curious, I asked fishers what they do during these no fishing periods and how they and their families cope during such times.

For tuna handline fishers in Mindoro, everybody says that they do household repairs, such as roof leaks, while boat captains and mechanics’ first priority is to keep their boats and engines in prime condition. Regular crew members, on the other hand, would simply wait for the next fishing trip, not even bothering to look for odd jobs because the boat captain might decide to go out fishing at any given moment. It’s difficult to find a job when you have no control of time—of how long bad weather lasts.

Some of them reported that their wives work to augment the loss of income during these times by doing laundry. But their main means of survival is to request loans from boat owners, fish brokers, or casas, which barely support their meals. This indebtedness is what loyally binds these fishers to boat owners and has bearings in the way tuna are priced, income is shared, and how much money they will earn.

In Lagonoy, fishers cope quite differently. Because tuna fishing is very much seasonal (September to January), almost all of the fishers I spoke to have small plots of land where they grow vegetables and other cash crops (cassava, sweet potato). Some fishers take jobs as skilled and unskilled workers in construction businesses in nearby areas and cities.

Because the seasonality of fishing in Lagonoy is quite fixed and lasts only 4-5 months, families have developed multiple streams of income—having plots of land as assets paid from fishing to enable them to do farming during off fishing season. This is their insurance against hunger, thus making them more food-secure than their Mindoro counterparts.

Comparing these two sets of fishers led me to think that the shortness of the fishing season could make fishers more diversified and creative in generating income, compared with those who are used to full-time fishing and are left with no other skill other than fishing. This could prove limiting at times when they can’t go out to fish.

With the threat of climate change upon us amidst declining tuna catch rates, the fishers of Mindoro need to be aware that scientists predict that rough weather will likely get worse before it gets better. They should start thinking about the long-term options to secure their food and livelihood.

Posted by Jose Ingles (Jingles)
A fisherman and his wife standing in front of the concrete house they built from tuna fishing earnings. Albay, Philippines.
© Alanah Torralba / WWF Coral Triangle Program Enlarge
A child plays on the shores of Barangay Sugod in Tiwi, Albay, beside tuna fishing boats docked for the low season. Philippines.
© Alanah Torralba / WWF Coral Triangle Program Enlarge

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required