Rehabilitating Panguil Bay

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In Photo: Workers fish and remove a filter net in Panguil Bay, which signals the start of a cleanup of the bay of illegal-fishing gears.

DECADES of abuse and the indiscriminate harvesting of marine animals that caused the decline of marine population in Panguil Bay have prompted concerned government agencies and leaders to rehabilitate the environment and remove illegal-fishing structures in the bay.

Diminished catch of assorted fish and crustaceans in Panguil Bay.
Diminished catch of assorted fish and crustaceans in Panguil Bay.

The Panguil Bay Development Council (PBDC), which is composed of political officials and heads of government agencies from Zamboanga Peninsula and Northern Mindanao, is getting headway in the bay’s cleanup and rehabilitation.

The fishery resources of Panguil Bay have considerably declined in terms of catch rates and volume. The decline is primarily caused by unabated fishing activity, illegal and destructive fishing practices, such as the use of filter nets and dynamite fishing.

The destruction of natural habitat of marine life and mangrove forests that were converted to fishponds, and the dumping of poisonous chemicals from fishponds, besides the increasing human habitation along the shore of the bay, have contributed to the decline in catch.

In the Tangub City area, which has the highest number of illegal-fishing structures, the local government unit started in dismantling the filter nets. The city has an inventory of more than 900 filter nets.   

Filter nets, or sanggab as the locals call it, is a cone-shaped fine net that is placed and positioned against the current during high tide. It catches even the smallest fry, without escape. There are about 2,000 sanggab of varying sizes, length and capacity spread across Paguil Bay. Removing sanggab from the bay and other illegal-fishing gears is a daunting task for the PBDC.

PBDC identified the areas in the towns of Baroy, Tubod, Tambulig, Bonifacio, Aurora, Kolambugan and the cities of Ozamiz and Tangub where sanggab is used by more than 800 workers.

Visa Tan Dimerin, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) regional director for Northern Mindanao, said the realization of this endeavor is due to the exercise of political will among the PBDC members and the cooperation from fisherfolk and sanggab operators.

To cushion the displacement of the affected fishermen, the PBDC approved a resolution providing those engaged in the sanggab operation, particularly the workers, with alternative livelihood.

Panguil Bay is a small but rich fishing ground that supports the livelihood of thousands of small-scale fishermen in Northwest Mindanao.

Flanked by 10 municipalities and two cities belonging to three provinces—Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Misamis Occidental in Zamboanga Peninsula and Northern Mindanao—the bay’s jurisdictional structure calls for an integrated management framework for the sustainable development of its fishery resources.

Over the years, Panguil Bay has been subjected to the divided governance among the municipalities, unregulated resource uses, and minimal interventions. The lack of holistic resource and environmental-management program poses the challenge for the sustainability of this natural resource and the livelihood of the marginalized fisherfolk.

The earliest assessment of Panguil Bay fisheries was conducted by the Mindanao State University-Naawan (MSU-Naawan) in 1982, followed by a series of assessments in 1990-1991, 1995-1996 and 2005 under the Fisheries Sector Program and Fisheries Resource Management Project of the Department of Agriculture-BFAR.

The paper, “Panguil Bay Fisheries Over the Decades: Status and Management Challenges” published in 2009 and prepared by Jaime U. Jimenez, Asuncion B. de Guzman, Cesaria R. Jimenez and Rodrigo E. Acuna of the MSU-Naawan Institute of Fisheries Research and Development, revealed that significant changes in the bay’s fisheries have occurred in the past years.

Panguil Bay is historically a rich fishing ground, particularly of the three main groups of fishery resources—finfish, mollusks and crustaceans (shrimps and crabs)—which are the most commercially harvested. The MSU-Naawan paper said a comparative profile of crustacean production in Panguil Bay in 1991, 1995-1996 and 2005 showed that catches had been dwindling progressively over the span of 14 years.

Overfishing—as a result of increasing fishermen population, proliferation of gear varieties and export of these resources over the decades—is one of the factors that have contributed to the decline of this marine resource.

The paper noted that the abundance of juvenile, sexually immature catches of sardines, anchovies, shrimps and bivalves in 2005 suggested that many fish resources of Panguil Bay are biologically overfished.  Growth overfishing—the catching of small pre-adult fish—in sardines and anchovy is particularly alarming as they form the bulk of the small pelagic catch around the mouth of the bay.

The worst scenario is seen in the catching of juvenile shrimps by highly efficient fine-mesh nets in the inner parts of the bay. The continued harvesting of small, juvenile organisms can severely threaten their future population, and eventually, the sustainability of the bay’s fishery resource. 

The illegal structures have been in the bay for decades, because for the fisherfolk, sanggab is the most practical gear to fish in the area.

The BFAR estimated that 10 years ago a sanggab can easily catch and harvest about 200 kilograms of fish, crabs and prawns. The catch dwindled as the number of sanggab and other illegal gears increased. Currently, a sanggab could hardly harvest a kilo of prawns.

Tangub City was the first to initiate and enforce the removal of the filter nets. The city officials have allocated P7 million for the affected workers and fishermen for four months, after which it is expected that they will already have an alternative livelihood.

Narciso Minguito Jr., BFAR-Northern Mindanao officer in charge for Marine Fisheries Section, said the use of sanggab in Panguil Bay is highly illegal considering that it operates without a permit, it hampers vessel navigation and uses fine-mesh nets.

Minguito said although some of the municipal mayors already agreed to remove illegal-fishing structures in their respective areas, they have asked for time until they can identify alternative livelihood for the affected fisherfolk.

Dimerin said the absence of illegal-fishing gears, and when fishing is regulated, coupled with environmental interventions, such as the reforestation of mangrove, it is expected that the fishery resource in Panguil Bay would again flourish.

“When overfishing and the use of illegal gears are stopped, it will only take four to six months and Panguil Bay’s fishery resource would again be in abundance,” Dimerin said. “It’s not too late, Panquil Bay can still be revived. What is needed is the cooperation and discipline among the stakeholders.”

Image Credits: Narciso Minguito/BFAR -Northern Mindanao