Zambales fishers try ecotourism

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BOTOLAN, Zambales—A fishing village in Zambales is relying on alternative sources of income after the combination of fish cage proliferation and a battery of storms almost depleted the Bangcal River of fish.

Armando Dejesa, 52, a fisherman in Barangay Parel here and a member of Parel Union for Water Environment Resources and Social Action (Puwersa), said fish cages had diminished their livelihood. “Fishermen here have joined hands to put a stop to that practice. We don’t want fish cages here [since] our primary livelihood is [in] the sea,” he said.

“To give our fishing grounds a rest, and also to protect the environment, we are coming up with alternative sources of income,” said Norberto Cabrera, Parel village chair.

Singapore’s Mercy Relief has turned Parel’s community life around.

In July 2011, Mercy Relief, together with the Center for the Development of Indigenous Science and Technology, launched a 12-month sustainable livelihood project benefiting 380 families.

Mercy Relief officials said the livelihood projects cost P3.7 million, which also financed bookkeeping tutorials and various business management courses for villagers.

They have taken up mangrove farming, fish processing to make smoked fish, and crab meat production, courtesy of the ideas promoted by Mercy Relief, Cabrera said.

Esmeraldo Dejesa, 47, Puwersa chair, described Parel as a community composed of farmers and fishermen who are “only poor people,” and the dwindling fish supply had made their condition worse.

Livelihood

During the inauguration of one of the group’s sustainable livelihood projects here on Tuesday, Ong Bon Chai, Mercy Relief vice chair, said massive efforts were required to rebuild the lives of those affected and displaced by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Kiko” in 2009.

Mercy Relief financed the construction of a production center for smoked milkfish and shrimp paste. Ong said the facility had introduced a mud crab culture that “would allow for additional sources of income for the local community.”

A study conducted by Mercy Relief said: “Since 2000, the average fish catch of small-scale fishers has been reduced by 60 percent. In recent times, six hours of fishing operations can only yield about 2 [kilograms] of catch, which is barely enough to feed a family of three.

“In the coastal areas of Botolan, mangrove conversion has been one of the key problems for the locals. Most of the areas have been converted into fishponds by private individuals or companies over the years. With the decreasing mangrove habitat, the recruitment of marine species such as crabs has declined significantly. Catching of crabs in mangrove and river systems is one of the main sources of livelihood for the villagers.”

In his speech, Ong said: “The inclusion of the mangrove ecotourism initiative [to the community’s potential business alternatives] would help rehabilitate the natural resources of Botolan for [future generations]. These integrated initiatives would provide the community with enhanced capacity to face future challenges, working together with one another to preserve the environment and secure themselves a better standard of living.”

Romeo Devillas, 58, who has been working on the mangroves since 2007, said that more than a hectare of swamp in Botolan had been covered with mangroves.

“Now [the mangroves have] also become a tourist attraction and fishermen show visitors around in their bancas,” he said.

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