Swamp eels delicacy but terraces’ pests
KIANGAN, Ifugao—Farmers here have expressed alarm over the quick spread of Asian swamp eels (Monopterus albus) in their upland rice fields which, they said, was helping destroy the Ifugao rice terraces.
The emergence of swamp eels as a new pest worsened the threat from giant earthworms which, for years have been a headache for terraces farmers in Ifugao, said Paul Belingon, president of the Bayaninan Farmers’ Organization in Nagadacan village here.
The Freshwater Aquaculture Center in the Science City of Muñoz has said that swamp eels grow up to 40 centimeters as an adult and burrow into the mud, which is their natural habitat. But they move about at night to hunt for prey, which include earthworms, frogs, tadpoles and other fish.
Belingon said swamp eels bore holes on irrigation dikes and rice paddies, making these vulnerable to collapse.
Though not considered by scientists as true eels, the Asian swamp eels, also known as rice paddy eels, help dry up lands. Because they do not have any known predators, they may disrupt the ecological system in their immediate environment.
Jane Bulahao, a Nagadacan farmer, said swamp eels, known here as “kiwit,” are worse than earthworms because they bore bigger holes and reproduce fast.
“We are calling on our [agriculture] officials to please help us find means on how to get rid of these swamp eels because they now pose bigger problems for us,” she said.
The Ifugao Cultural Heritage Office earlier estimated that about 450 cubic meters of soil from the terraces at Nagadacan village here had been washed out by heavy rains triggered by typhoons in September and October. Soil from the damaged areas could fill 37 six-wheel dump trucks.
Icho said repair work on the damaged terraces here and in Banaue, Hungduan and Mayoyao towns, which are inscribed in the list of World Heritage Sites of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), would need about P122 million.
Farmers said the terraces are slowly deteriorating because many of them are forced to abandon their farms to look for jobs in urban centers and lowland provinces, hoping to augment their dwindling income from tilling the rice fields.
But even as swamp eels are considered as pests, farmers are divided about the need to wipe them out, said Belingon. “They are often caught for food, and for some, they taste good,” he said.
Others sell the eels in public markets at the town center, or even as far as Solano town in Nueva Vizcaya, about 50 kilometers from here.
Residents said swamp eels were introduced into Nagadacan rivers by a US Peace Corps volunteer in 2008, supposedly as an additional food source for residents.
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