By Sarsi Pimentel, Rey Manangan, Lady Michelle Adobe and Gerry Albert Corpuz
MANILA, Philippines- Laguna Lake fishermen are reportedly swimming with fish nowadays, bringing home as much as 100 kilos per fishing trip but their income dropped to all time low.
The militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Sunday said fisherfolk in Laguna Lake are literally and figurative swimming with fish particularly big head, milkfish and tilapia due to rainy season and the overflow of some of fish pens in the 94,000 hectare brackish lake water.
But Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France said despite the bounty harvest over the last four weeks or one month, the small fisherfolk of Laguna Lake are wallowing in poverty because the farm gate price of fish in the lake was drastically cut by 1,000 to 25,000 percent per kilo of whatever water products fished from the lake.
The Pamalakaya official who went to Binangonan fish port over the weekend to check farm gate prices of fish said he was shocked to learn that the farm gate price of big head (sometimes called or mistaken as maya-maya) is now P 1 per kilo compared to previous farm gate price of P 25 per kilo or a drop of 24,000 percent.
“One fisherman whom we interviewed last week said his catch was 145 kilos and he only received P 145 for the entire catch or P 1 per kilo. He spent 5 liters of gasoline or P 230 and lost 85 pesos. This is unfair, very unfair,” added France.
The Pamalakaya official said in the aftermath of typhoon Basyang, fish traders buying milkfish in Laguna Lake fish ports buy milkfish at a rate of P 10 per kilo, one of the lowest in the history of fish trading in the lake.
France blamed the fish cartel operating in Laguna Lake for the low price of fisherfolk harvests. He said 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. Pamalakaya said fish traders are making huge profits by selling milk fish at P 80 per kilo and big head at 40 per kilo to fish retailers.
The group said aside from unscrupulous fish traders, multinational oil companies are largely to blame for the rock bottom drop in the income of Laguna Lake fishermen because of perpetual hikes and high rise cost of petroleum products used by small fisherfolk.
“The small fisherfolk are exploited, the fish eating public is summarily abused by the fish cartel operating like a long-running syndicate in Laguna Lake. We ask Gov. Junjun Ynares of Rizal, Gov. EJ Ejercito of Laguna and the mayors of Laguna Lake in Rizal and Laguna and National Capital Region to investigate this perpetual exploitation of Laguna Lake fishers and the consuming public and stop this 24 hour, seven day exploitation,” said Pamalakaya.
Pamalakaya said they will file a collective petition before the governor offices of Ynares and Ejercito and the rest of the local government units surrounding the lake to raise the farm gate price of milkfish by an average of P 40 to P 50 per kilo and big head by an average of P 20 per kilo to compensate with the high 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.
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.
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.
“Our proposal will give small fisherfolk decent income and at the same time will give the consuming public a cheaper price for fishery products,” said Pamalakaya. (With reports from Handog Malaya Vera and Billy Javier Reyes) #