By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Portnip Pakangcharap and Labo Molabo Ramos
MANILA, Philippines-Laguna Lake-based groups Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM) and Anakpawis partly list-Laguna Lake chapter today rejected the proposal of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) urging all concerned stakeholders to conduct massive collection and harvesting of knife fish eggs to stop the spread of invasive specie currently infesting the livelihood of small fishermen and fish pen operators all over the lake.
"The government is treating the issue as bizarrely trivial escapade with this highly outrageous solution offer by BFAR. We are asking for decisive scientific resolution from BFAR and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) and not whimsical adventures created by mind-boggling officials of BFAR and LLDA," Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said in a press statement.
Hicap, also the vice chairperson of Anakpawis party list and convener of SLLM said the LLDA should instead pursue the opening of Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (NHCS) to allow saltwater from Manila Bay to enter Laguna Lake to cure the current ecological and biodiversity imbalance in the 90.000 hectare-lake.
BFAR director Asis Perez argued that collecting and harvesting of knife fish eggs could stop the said findings made by the agency’s National Inland Fisheries Technology Center showed knife fish could spawn naturally in the lake and its eggs stick to bamboo poles and stakes of fish pens and cages.
Yesterday, Pamalakaya announced that a House Resolution urging the House Committee on Natural Resources to investigate the invasion of new predatory fish in Laguna Lake known as knife fish will be filed early next week.
According to Salvador France, the vice-chairperson of Pamalakaya said Rep. Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis party list will file the resolution early next week calling for a full-blown inquiry on the presence of knife fish in the 90,000 hectare lake, which fishermen dismissed as a predator that threatens the livelihood of lake people and which would lead to the eventual death of the lake's biodiversity.
"The chief of Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) and the director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) are treating the invasion of predator knife fish like an ordinary thing. LLDA general manager Neric Acosta and BFAR director Asis Perez are detached from reality and acting like political bipolars," said France.
Pamalakaya, the SLLM and Anakpawis party list-Laguna Lake chapter theorized that the proliferation of knife fish in Laguna Lake was intentional. The lake-based groups said the LLDA is principally behind the mushrooming of knife fish so the national government can compel small fisherfolk and fishpen operators to leave their livelihood and pave way for 54 major projects under the Laguna Lake Master Plan that promised to give Malacanang some P 400-billion in total investments.
The groups said the major projects include the 100-km road dike from Taytay, Rizal to Sta. Cruz, Laguna, the dredging of the lake, the construction of ferry system, the development of Talim Island into an international airport and the conversion of Laguna Lake into a major source of potable water with Maynilad and Manila Water assured of 300 million cubic meter and 100 million cubic meter of water supply on daily basis. But Secretary Acosta dismissed the claims of lake based organizations as unfounded.
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael V. Mariano demanded the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to thoroughly probe the knife fish infestation in Laguna Bay that is causing damaging effects on the livelihood of small fisher folks and small and medium fishing entrepreneurs. “The LLDA and BFAR must stop making excuses for their non-action on the growing problem of knife fish proliferation in Laguna Lake.
The government must act decisively and concretely to stop the invasion of this ‘predator alien fish’ that feeds on local fish species, severely affecting the livelihood of local fisher folks,” said Mariano.
"The alarming proliferation of knife fish adds to the usual problem of fish kill, pollution and poverty in Laguna Lake. The knife fish is swiftly killing the livelihood of small fisher folks who rely on the lake for their daily food consumption and income,” said Mariano.
Contrary to the claim of LLDA, Mariano said fisher folks see very little or no opportunity at all in the proliferation of knife fish in Laguna Lake. Small fisher folks consider the knife fish as ‘pests in the lake’ as it feeds on fry and fingerlings of more common fish species like milk fish (bangus), tilapia, big head carp, silver perch fish (ayungin) and catfish (kanduli).
Small fisher folks in Binangonan, Rizal are complaining that knife fish now comprises a significant portion of their daily catch. A kilo of knife fish sells only for P8 to P15 compared to milkfish that sells P80 to P100 per kilo. The knife fish are sold to local fish ball and fish cracker manufacturers. “Even locals do not eat the knife fish,” said Mariano.
Small fish pen and fish cage operators are also bearing the brunt of dwindling fish harvest in Laguna Lake. Since 2010, fish harvest drastically reduced from 200 tons to 50 to 75 tons of native fish. Mariano said the government must urgently consider opening the Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure to allow sea water to flow into the Laguna Lake. “Opening the Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure can cure the ecological cycle of Laguna Lake and rid it of pollutants including invasive fish species.”
Knife fish, (chitala or clown knife fish) an alien fish specie common in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos started proliferating in Laguna Lake two years ago. As to how the knife fish reached the local waters remains a mystery. Laguna Lake is the largest source of fresh water fish for consumers in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. The solon will file a resolution urging Congress to investigate the proliferation and effects of knife fish on the livelihood of small fisher folks and the local fishing industry.
Pamalakaya, SLLM and Anakpawis-Laguna Lake chapter said the spread of knife fish goes with the actual plan of the national government to remove some 82,000 households or 500,000 fishermen and lake residents. "The knife fish invasion of Laguna Lake will help the LLDA and the office of the President condition the mind of and convince the Filipino public that fishing is no longer feasible in the lake and it is about time to look for other opportunities rather than stick to fishing for livelihood and other economic opportunities," they said.
Acosta had downplayed the huge economic and environmental crisis posed by knife fish in Laguna Lake. The LLDA top official said as far as the lake agency is concerned only 30 percent of the daily production is affected by the proliferation of the invasive specie. But Pamalakaya maintained that the knife fish invasion of Laguna Lake reduced production by 70 to 90 percent both in fish capture and aquaculture sector.
Acosta said the LLDA will explore the good potentials of the ornamental and exotic fish like knife fish, which he said is commercially viable because knife fish can sold for P 30 a kilo, it is fit for human consumption and it has other uses. He said there are more benefits that can be derived from knife fish than the janitor fish. He said BFAR even suggested to process knife fish into fish balls which can be exported to other countries.
"Acosta wants the Filipino people to say goodbye to bangus, tilapia, ayungin and big head carp and change their eating habit with the carnivorous and exotic knife fish now coming into the picture as the star of their dining table. How can you accept this logic. It is illogical and pathetic line of thinking," Pamalakaya said. Several groups had urged LLDA to open the Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (NHCS) to allow saltwaters from Manila Bay during high tide to come into the lake and cleanse the lake of various toxic and alien species.(With a report from Lala Mudra Flores-Aguilar)