Fewer fish cages help revive Lake Buhi | Inquirer News

Fewer fish cages help revive Lake Buhi

LAKE BUHI in Buhi town, Camarines Sur, with the background of Mt. Malinao in the town of Tiwi, Albay. The 200-meter buffer zone provides more fishing ground for marginal fisherfolk and navigational areas. Photo by JUAN ESCANDOR JR.

Lake Buhi, the habitat of the world’s smallest edible fish locally called sinarapan, is showing signs of recovery three years after authorities launched a campaign to rid the freshwater body of excess fish cages and other structures choking it.

The dismantling of fish cages has helped the provincial government of Camarines Sur and concerned national agencies expand spaces in the lake for navigational, buffer and fish sanctuary zones.


From 19,000 cages in the 1,650-hectare lake in July 2011, the number has gone down to 16,000, according to lake development officer Ronilo Leal.


With an estimated area of 100 square meters for each cage, the structures currently occupy 160 hectares, or nearly 10 percent of Lake Buhi’s surface area. The Fisheries Law of 1995 or Republic Act No. 8550 sets 10 percent of a lake area for aquaculture development.

Maharlika Oaferina, chair of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council, noted that because of the rehabilitation program, there were no more cages in fish sanctuaries and navigational lanes.

Under the program, no structure for tourism purposes will also be built 200 meters from the shore circumferential to the lake.

A Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) technical monitoring report showed that the quality of water in Lake Buhi in most sample areas had been maintained at Class B, which means it is suited for bathing, swimming, diving and other recreational purposes.

Beethoven Nachor, who is in charge of the rehabilitation program, recalled a “very tense start” in clearing Lake Buhi of excess fish cages. A massive fishkill had earlier hit 90 percent of tilapia aquaculture, with losses estimated at P80 million, Leal said.

Nachor said small and medium-scale cage owners were opposed to the clearing operations along navigational, buffer and fish sanctuary zones.


In July 2011, the fish cages were dismantled by a task force composed of the Philippine National Police, municipal government, provincial government, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the DENR.

It did not take long for the positive effects to become apparent.

Poor fishermen gained from wider fishing grounds in the 200-meter buffer area from the shoreline.

Richard Florendo, 40, of Barangay (village) San Buena, said he could now move freely in the waters without fear that somebody would yell at him to warn that he was near the fish cage area. He uses pokot (gill net) to catch fish.

Now, Florendo can catch seven kilos of fish in one trip compared to five kilos before the dismantling. With his teenage son helping him, he has improved his earnings from P450 to P630 per fishing trip.

Arnel Carullo Zaballa, 54, whose cages in the buffer zone were removed, complained of declining income but agreed that there were other benefits from the clearing operations.

Fishkill occurred only two in three years from a yearly occurrence before the cages were dismantled, Zaballa said. Its spread has also been reduced to two days from three to four days, he added.

Dummy owners

Nachor said the implementation of the maximum of 2,500 sq m of lake area allowed for use by a single fish cage operator had exposed some operators who were hiding the actual number of cages they own.

One operator, fearing that he would be required to register as a corporation to be allowed to occupy one hectare, has named his wife, daughter or son as dummy owners of every 2,500 sq m actually allotted to him, he said.

Nachor said the Water Quality Management Board, a DENR body overseeing Lake Buhi, would review an ordinance on antidummy ownership of fish cages to curb abuse by operators.

Even with the reduced number of fish cages, Leal said the average volume of tilapia harvest had been sustained at 10,000 kilos daily. The fish are brought to markets in all Bicol provinces, and the cities of Lucena, Cebu and Tacloban.

As to the sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis), Leal said he had no data on the depletion of  the fish stock in Lake Buhi. The tiny goby is also preserved and raised in the small lakes of Manapao and Katugday in the upper portion of Buhi town.

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He said, however, that sinarapan were regularly sighted whenever the lake water would rise. The restocking of pregnant sinarapan from October to November every year is believed to be boosting the stocks of what the Guinness Book of World Records describes as the smallest commercial fish in the world.

TAGS: Fishing industry, Lake Buhi, News, Regions

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