5 JUNE 2008
P C I J I N V E S T I G A T I O N — LEGAL LOOPHOLES, POLITICS EXACERBATE TAAL LAKE'S WOES
FEEDS AND FISH FECES LEAD TO FISH KILLS
“We have repeatedly given them seminars and trainings, but they continue with their practice,” complains Leah Villanueva, chief of BFAR’s Inland Fisheries Research Station in Tanauan City. “We can only offer technical assistance.”
Wind energy such as the southwest monsoon stirs up the lake’s waters and spreads the nutrients and other pollutants that later lead to ecological disasters like fish kills, experts explain.
But fisher Leo Aranel, who is chairperson of Aligtagtag town’s Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (MFARMC), says he knows exactly where the major blame lies: “The problem here is that the municipal governments keep on accepting fish cage applications as long as there are spaces available in the lake.”
That may be partly because local governments earn from issuing fish cage permits. Talisay, for one, imposes a P2 lake-use fee per square meter of fish cage while Mataas na Kahoy town charges a yearly lake-use fee of P400 per fish cage.
POLITICS OVER POLLUTION
Yet another fisher, Eufemio Lubi, says, “They are always thinking of their political career, that the people might not vote for them (if they dismantle the cages) and somebody would get mad at them.”
“That’s why the lake is getting polluted,” fumes Lubi, who believes fish farming is to blame for the strange rusty color of the lake during summer months. “If they aren’t always thinking of their political career, we wouldn’t have this many fish cages.”
Once the lake turns an orange-red color, experts say, that indicates algal bloom. Yet they say that in the case of Taal Lake, the problem is not necessarily the number of fish cages, but in the practices of overstocking and overfeeding.
“We cannot control the natural processes (like wind) which spread the pollutants in the lake,” says BFAR aquaculturist Maurita Rosana. “But by following the recommended cage stocking density and feeding practices (in fish cage operations), we could reduce the number of nutrients that trigger pollutants in the lake.”
The official number of fish cages in Taal Lake — 6,796 — last year does overshoot the 6,000 recommended by fisheries experts for it, as does BFAR’s latest count of 9,188. But local government insiders and observers alike note that the area the cages occupy is still well under the legal limit set by the Philippine Fisheries Code.
The Code says that to prevent the quality of the country’s lakes from deteriorating, fish cages should occupy at most only 10 percent of the total lake area. According to BFAR Calabarzon Director Rosa Macas, fish cages occupy 500 hectares or two percent of Taal Lake.
Then again, the limit does not really apply to Taal Lake since the Code exempts lakes declared as protected areas from the definition of municipal waters.
In March 2007, the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape (TVPL)-PAMB finally approved a Unified Rules and Regulations for Fisheries (URRF) that limits the number of fish cages in the lake to 6,000 and within designated fish-cage zones.
The URRF also specifies areas as fish sanctuaries for native fishes to breed, regulates the use of fishing gear, and enforces other rules relative to Taal Lake’s biodiversity conservation.
But Environment Secretary Lito Atienza has refused to sign it unless it says there would be no fish cages in Taal Lake after a phase-out period.
Email us your comments about this article, or post them in our blog.