2 groups clash over whale shark feeding in Bohol
TAGBILARAN CITY—Two fisher groups clashed on Monday as they expressed opposing views on whether or not they should feed the whale sharks that have now found a home in the waters of Bohol province.
At least 50 fishermen from Loay town, unhappy with dwindling catch blamed on these giant sea creatures, asked Mayor Don Ritchie Buates of the neighboring town of Alburquerque to stop the feeding of four whale sharks, locally known as “tuki-tuki” or “butanding,” that appeared in the waters of the two municipalities in September last year.
But Buates and at least 20 fishers from Alburquerque maintained there was no harm in feeding the whale sharks in their seas, a move they saw as a means to promote local tourism.
The clashing positions surfaced during the joint meeting on Monday of the Provincial Board’s committees on agriculture and natural resources and environmental protection presided by Vice Gov. Victor Balite, who chairs the board’s committee on agriculture.
Another meeting will be called to thresh out their differences and find a common ground among concerned stakeholders, Balite said.
Calino Permoso, 44, president of the Alegria Sur Fishermen Association in Barangay Alegria Sur of Loay, said feeding the whale sharks with “bolinaw” (anchovy) on a daily basis in a protected area encouraged the butandings to stay.
“Whale sharks eat the anchovies, our source of livelihood. That, in a way, threatens us,” he said.
Whale sharks, also known as the gentle giants of the sea, feed on plankton, along with tiny seagrasses and small fishes.
Buates stressed residents in his town have not been actively feeding the whale sharks in their waters but admitted they planned to develop “whale shark watching” in Alburquerque.
“We have not yet started [the whale shark watching project] but some [fishers] are already complaining. Our tourism activities will continue, including whale [shark] watching, as part of our tourism plan and approved by an ordinance. I believe this will uplift the lives of our people,” said Buates.
Arsenio Plaza-Aclan, president of the East Poblacion Fishermen Association of Alburquerque, said the project would be of great help to them, like what happened in the town of Oslob in Cebu province where fishermen are protecting whale sharks.
In Oslob, most fishermen have stopped fishing and turned to feeding whale sharks with tiny amounts of krill to draw them closer to shore so tourists can snorkel or dive with them.
“We want our town to progress. That is for our own good just like the fishermen in Oslob,” said Reynante Asingua, 54, an Alburquerque fisherman.
Board Member Jamie Aumentado Villamor, who chairs the committee on natural resources and environmental protection, noted that before deciding on whether or not to turn the whale sharks into a tourist attraction, they should review Republic Act No. 8550 (Fisheries Code of the Philippines), which requires government agencies, private corporations, firms and entities to prepare a detailed Environmental Impact Statement prior to undertaking any activities and projects involving marine life.
Environmental advocates, including Tagbilaran Bishop Alberto Uy, have opposed the feeding of whale sharks, saying feeding the giant sharks for business rather than conservation was improper.
“Feeding whale sharks is an ‘ecological trap.’ These are highly migratory animals that should not be trained to stay in one place. Learn more and do something to save our environment,” said Uy in a social media post. INQ
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