LAUREL, Batangas — Fish kill strikes Taal Lake, with a staggering 605 metric tons of tilapia being lost—as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources dubbed as the worst crisis the fishcage industry has faced.
At a farmgate, with a price of P71 per kilo of tilapia, potential income loss per reports said is estimated at P42.9 million.
DENR Regional Executive Director Atty. Maria Paz Luna said there were 121 affected fish cages in Barangay Buso Buso and Gulod in Laurel and Barangay Banaga in neighboring Agoncillo town.
The department, however, said that this huge fish-kill is not expected to affect supply and prices.
“The public is advised that this merely comprises a small percentage and while they should continue to check their fish purchases for freshness, there is no cause for alarm in the market,” Luna said, adding that mortalities don’t even reach 25 percent of a town’s total production.
Tilapia prices were down at P40 per kilo in the Lipa City public market, however, from a market price of P80 per kilo following reports of the lake’s crisis.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) already issued warnings on Sunday that the lake’s dissolved oxygen was dangerously low at 2.8 parts per million and advised fish cage owners to move their cages or harvest early. It continued to decline in the following days.
On Monday evening, 10 cages were reported to have had fish mortalities.
By Thursday, about 200 metric tons of fish were dead and floating. In her afternoon inspection, Luna found out that around 33 cages still had floating dead fish waiting to be hauled to the shore and buried as the newly dug mortality pits were at over capacity.
“Not all fish cage owners are capable harvesters since they do not own large boats for hauling. The harvesters are currently hauling dead fish from their own cages,” Luna pointed out. “Existing boats will also temporarily serve as aerators until water quality improves."
The PAMB Execom, which she chairs, likewise provided the fishcage-owners 24 hours to remove dead fish from their cages or “face sanctions.”
The regulation of fish cage industry in Taal Lake started in 2006 when the lake’s carrying capacity of 6,000 fish cages were established and decreed to be allowed.
The Taal Volcano Protected Landscape – Protected Areas Management Board (TVPL-PAMB), who manages the lake, passed the unified rules and regulations and began dismantling illegal structures with the help of the Batangas provincial government’s Task Force Taal Lake.
They were able to reduce the number of cages from 14,000 to 6,000 even dipping below the said figures during certain periods.
Luna, however, said not all rules were being followed.
“Stocking density was routinely violated and regulators had no way to count the fish already in the cages,” she said.
Most owners also falsified the required certifications that they have mortality pits for daily mortality and fish kills. Rules requiring floating feeds, the excess uneaten of which will merely be eaten later, also took years to reach “critical mass of compliance.”
The Taal Lake Aquaculture Alliance, an industry coalition represented in the PAMB, inspects monthly. It polices its own ranks, however, it does not represent majority of the fishcage owners.
“Worse what was intended for democratizing access to the lake – requirements that registrants must be local residents was flouted. Financiers and feed companies were the real owners and the registered locals were mere caretakeers,” Luna said.
According to The Free Connection, Philippine Star’s regional bureau, said that it appears that the industry is incapable of addressing large fishkill incidences due to lack of large harvesters. The mortality pits certified as existing were nowhere to be found and the free trainings all caretakers attended “might as well have been in foreign language”—implying that all has been taught did not apply well due to language barriers and cultural differences in fishcage practice.
Photo from DENR-Calabarzon