Despite huge catch: Laguna Lake fishermen’s income remain low

More catch but empty handed. (Photo courtesy of http://angel17raine.multiply.com/)

BINANGONAN, RIZAL, August 18, 2010—Notwithstanding the effects of the typhoon Basyang (International Name: Conson), the 98,000-hectare Laguna de Bay had given the fisherfolks a bountiful harvest.

Fishermen in Binangonan say, they can gather as much as 100 kilos (220.46 lbs) of fish in just one fishing. However, Salvador France of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas or Pamalakaya says, there is no cause for celebration for the income of the fisherfolks in Laguna de Bai continued to decline, thus leaving the fisherfolks and their families in deep penury.

A 1,000 – 25,000 per cent decline on farm gate price

France, vice chair of Pamalakaya, an alliance of 43 small fishermen’s organizations, spread all throughout the Philippines, said that the prices of big head (commonly known as Imelda, named after the former First Lady and now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Romualdez-Marcos), tilapia and milkfish (bangus) had declined from 1,000 up to 24,000 per cent, per kilo.

In the Pritil ng Binangonan (Binangonan fish port), the prices of the said lake goods had reached the all time low of P1.00 (US$0.02) per kilo, compared to the former price P25 per kilo.

“One fisherman said that he caught 145 kilos of fishes but only to come home with P145 in total income. This is against all of his expenses of P230 for the fuel he used for his motor banca,” France said.

Bangus or milkfish, says France, had reached an all time low of P10 per kilo, while it used to be sold at P40 per kilo.

Blame it on fish cartels

The fisherfolks’ leader said, one of the greatest problems that the local fishermen encounter at the lake is the proliferation of the said fish cartels.

“These cartels, or a small group of fish traders, are the ones who control the prices of products at the bay.Prior to typhoon Basyang, farm gate prices of bangus and big head are pegged at average prices of P 40 and P 20 per kilo, respectively,” explains France.

He also said that these unscrupulous businesspersons are raking profits as they sell the products they bought from the fishermen at 100 or more percent, of the original price of fish, per kilogram.

High cost of petroleum products adds up the burden to fishermen, France also said.

“As the prices of gasoline and diesel soar, the income of these poor fishermen is getting lower and lower,” he said.

Fisherfolks: the marginalized among the marginalize sectors of the Philippine society

Based on the results of the 2006 Official Poverty Statistics for the Basic Sectors published by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) in June last year, fishermen had posted the highest poverty incidence among the eight (8) basic sectors of the Filipino society at 49.9 per cent poverty incidence rate.

“Poverty incidence for all sectors increased from 2003 to 2006. The largest increases were observed for fishermen, children and senior citizens with 6.3, 1.9 and 1.6 percentage points increases, respectively,” says NSCB Secretary General Romulo A. Virola in a statement.

The farmers and the children also recorded the highest poverty incidence rate with 44 per cent and 40.8 per cent rates, respectively.

Pamalakay revealed that income of small fishers in Laguna Lake has drastically reduced over the last 15 years due to diminishing fish catch, increasing prices of petroleum products and low farm gate prices. From a high of 10 to 15 kilos of average catch per day, today’s prevailing fish catch is pegged between 3 kilos to 5 kilos per day and income dropped at all time low from P 500 to P 1,000 per fishing trip to P 50 to P 150 per fishing trip.

However, the militant group clarified that despite their demand for the increase in farm gate prices, fish traders could still enjoy at least P 20 gross profits and could still sell milkfish in the market at P 70 per kilo and big head at P 40 per kilo which are lower compared to the prevailing price of milkfish at P 100 to P 120 per kilo and big head which can still be sold at P 50 per kilo which is way below the prevailing market price of P 80 to P 100 per kilo.

Dismantling of ‘cartels’ pushed

Pamalakaya said that they will file a petition to the offices of Rizal Governor Casimiro “Jun-Jun” Ynares III and Laguna Governor Emilio Ramon “ER” Ejercito III and the rest of local government units, surrounding the lake to dismantle these fish cartels and to push for a higher the farm gate prices of fishes and other aqua-produce in the Laguna de Bai.

France said that they are pushing for an average P40 to P50 farm gate price for milkfish and P20 for bighead, to compensate the rising cost of production in fishing.

The militant group said 80 percent of the production cost goes to diesel and gasoline per fishing trip. Pamalakaya said their leaders in the national office and their chapters around the lake are willing to dialogue and come face to face with members of the fish cartel to discuss this problem of six feet below ground prices of fish products in Laguna Lake.

France believes that their proposal “will give small fisherfolk decent income and at the same time will give the consuming public a cheaper price for fishery products.” (SPECIAL REPORT ON FISHERIES, written for the CBCPNews.com)