Just before dawn, several tourists haul a fishing net together with a 20-member fishing crew called “buso” led by two “maestros” on board a double-decked bamboo raft floating 50 meters away from Malabor Coast in Tibiao, Antique.
As soon as the catch comes in with the rising sun, the tourists squeal in delight upon seeing tuna, mackerel, moonfish, barracuda, swordfish, red tail scads and manta rays wriggle and toss around the raft that is 50 meters wide and 200 meters long.
This one-of-a-kind experience is called “Lambaklad Fishing” – a Filipino term derived from “lambat” (net) and “baklad” (corral), or “lambat-baklad” or “lambaklad,” (a huge stationary fish trap).
A lambaklad is the Filipino term for “otoshi-ami,” the Japanese name of the largest fish trap net which is literally translated as a drop-in net – a stationary and passive fishing gear that acts as buffer against the incursion of a large commercial fishing vessels in municipal waters.
Lambaklad fishing is part of the Tibiao Adventures conceptualized and operated by 24-year-old Flord Nicson Calawag to promote Tibiao’s tourism treasures and help the fishermen.
Under the package, tourists may swim in seven-tiered falls, go cliff-diving, kayaking or river trekking, or simply relax in Tibiao Fish Spa where “therafish” nibble their feet.
Calawag says lambaklad fishing was included in the package because it has been his dream to provide livelihood to the fishermen he has grown up with and see his guests enjoy their visit to his hometown.
A fisheries graduate of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas in 2008, Calawag says he decided to combine his causes into a tourism attraction after noticing how fishermen along the Malabor Coast were no match to purse seiners.
For P50, tourists can take part in a “fishing expedition” with the local fishermen. They are also given the priority to buy the catch at very low prices – from P60 to P150 per kilo depending on the species. Of course, the first-class varieties, such as the “malasugi,” tuna and “tangigue,” command higher prices.
If the tourists decide not to buy, there are always fish vendors and retailers who wait for the fishermen in the pier.
One-third of the share of the catch goes to the fishermen and two-thirds, to the management that assumes all expenses in materials and operations.
For fisherman Mario Arsaga, 42, a father of five, the lambaklad has been his ticket to a better life.
From his earnings as the oldest employee and one of the master fishermen of Jeca Lambaklad Fishing owned by Calawag’s family, he was able to build his own house and buy a small boat.
“Even the wives of the fishermen get employed as fish vendors, retailers or fish brokers to market the catch after the hauling which is typically done in the morning, noon and afternoon,” Calawag says.
He points out that the bounty in the Malabor Coast, particularly in the Cuyo East Pass in its western border, because it is a tuna highway where migratory fish get caught in the lambaklad.
Tibiao also has many creeks and river estuaries that attract the migratory species, Calawag says.
He cites his own studies showing that Antique is seldom heavily affected by strong typhoons and that the southwest monsoon has little effect on the gears, making it an ideal site for set-net orotoshi-ami operations.
Carol Joy Deduro, a tour operator based in Iloilo City, was excited as she helped the fishermen haul in the fish and pick one big yellow fin tuna for a photo op. She grinned wider when told that it was going to be served for lunch.