Gov’t scrambles to save fish in Laguna Lake
Malacañang yesterday blamed lack of cooperation between local officials and fish pen owners for the fishkills in Batangas and Pangasinan, even as the government also scrambled to save the fish in the country’s largest freshwater lake.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the government was now distributing bangus (milkfish) fingerlings to the affected fish pen owners but that restocking would only work if the quality of the affected bodies of water improved.
“The plight of the bangus industry in Batangas and Pangasinan shows that if local authorities and fish pen owners do not closely cooperate in ensuring the sustainability of the bangus industry, nature will inflict its own corrective mechanisms, leading to even greater disruptions,” Lacierda said in a statement.
“And the public, too, will vote with its pocket,” he added, apparently referring to political consequences that local officials face if they fail to address the problem.
The Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) is taking steps to prevent a similar disaster from occurring in the largest freshwater lake in the country.
At present, the fish in Laguna Lake are safe and have enough air to breathe, with the most recent test showing that the amount of dissolved oxygen in the area is still normal, the agency said.
But to ensure that the fish would be in no danger of turning up dead in massive numbers, the LLDA has taken precautionary measures.
In a separate move, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo ordered police in Batangas to dismantle all illegal fish pens installed on the shorelines of Taal Lake in Talisay and Laurel towns but to begin doing it after all the rotting fish had been disposed of.
Robredo said he ordered the Batangas provincial director to give the illegal fish pen owners the chance to dismantle their pens voluntarily after their dead fish had been retrieved from the lake and buried.
Robredo also said the local government should file charges against fish pen operators found to have violated environmental laws.
No ifs, buts
Lacierda said the government would help the affected fish pen owners by providing them with bangus fingerlings for restocking purposes.
“But this can be done when the water quality is restored, and can be maintained, to allow fingerlings to develop properly,” Lacierda said.
“The choice local administrators have to make … is to maintain a healthy limit on fish pens if the industry is to be sustainable. There are no ifs and buts about it,” he said.
The LLDA’s Environmental Laboratory and Research Division will hold tests in five major stations of the lake to keep track of the water condition, officials said. It has also talked with fish pen operators and asked them to monitor the condition of the lake.
The LLDA will also inspect fish pen operations to ensure they are following the requirements of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), such as having a maximum depth of 5 meters and a carrying capacity of 10,000 pieces of fish per 500 square meters.
One reason for the fishkills in Batangas and Pangasinan was the overcrowding of fish pens, with the BFAR saying some fish cages had been overstocked and their depths increased to 15 meters from the prescribed 5 meters.
Formula for disaster
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the overstocking by fishery owners of their cages, in addition to polluted waters and low oxygen levels in Taal Lake, could be blamed for the fishkill in Batangas.
As the fisherfolk crammed fingerlings into their pens, doubling the fish population, dissolved oxygen in the lake waters dropped as a result. So when the fish grew, they couldn’t survive on the depleted oxygen in the water, Paje said.
“This is the formula for disaster,” Paje said.
“The farmers in wanting to produce so much got zero instead … They should understand there’s always a limit to the carrying capacity of their fish pens,” Paje said. With a report from Penelope P. Endozo
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