Friday, May 24, 2013

Tropical Fish Trade in Quezon, Uphold the law before it is too late.

April 14, 2013

Coming from a mapping expedition and a feeding outreach for the children of Jomalig Island, we headed back to Real, Quezon via a passenger boat from Patnanungan Island. Amidst Lamon Bay's turquoise waters is a heart-breaking reality. To our surprise, the boat is not only overloaded with people but are loaded with large plastic bags filled with the treasures of Lamon Bay. The bags are filled with various species of tropical fishes meant to be sold to pet stores, all bound to Real, Quezon. The question is, is it legal to catch tropical fishes at Lamon Bay?

Overloaded boat from Patnanungan to Real, Quezon

The boat we rode is an 11AM boat leaving Patnanungan island for a voyage of about 72 kilometers and about a 5-hour ride across Lamon Bay of Northern Quezon Province. The boat is overloaded as you can see from its side balancers that are already a meter below the sea surface. Usually, the boat is designed to carry 30 people but we were informed that we were 58 aboard that boat together with about 10 dozens of big plastic bags filled with live Lapu-Lapu and tropical fishes meant to be sold in aquariums.

The cargo in question are those big plastic bags about 2 dozens of them filled with anemone fishes.

About 2 dozens of various species of anemone fishes and a stingray

Clark and Orange Skunk Anemonefishes

Clown fishes


Bag with Black Anemonefishes, Emperor Fish and a young stingray

False Clown Anemonefish

As I did my research, these fishes are not on the endangered category in the Philippines however the way to be able to catch them is illegal unless these fishes were bred in a private fish farm. The problem is there is no private fish farms anywhere in Patnanungan Island.

Anemone Fishes only thrives within sea anemones and they never leave their habitat. The farthest they can be away from sea anemones is about 2 feet. And it is impossible to grab them from the sea anemones because these animals that protects the anemone fishes excrete toxins that is painful to humans. The only way to be able to catch these fishes would be by spraying the anemone with a diluted cyanide solution to stun the fishes so they will come out and be caught by the fisherman's net. Though the cyanide solution is not enough to kill the fishes but is only meant to stun them, the solution can kill the sea anemones. And these sea anemones is the habitat of millions of anemone fishes. Aside from that, the way they are transported is incorrect and only a few survive before they reach the stores.

According to Republic Act No. 9147 Section 27, destruction of a wildlife's habitat is an illegal act and thus catching anemone fishes in the wild is illegal.

The bearer of the Anemonefishes as Journeying James asked questions regarding the cargo's legality

We tried to find if there are special permits that the bearer of the cargo may possess however she only has a permit from the Office of the Agriculturist of the Municipality of Real, Quezon dated a week before (April 7, 2013) whereas the date when we saw the cargo was already April 14. Aside from that, the price declaration of the tropical fish cargo only amounts to Php 18,000 which was unbelievable for the amount of anemone fishes we saw. A single clown fish is sold at about Php533 in the market however one plastic bag has around 50 and there where about 2 dozens of this bag. Roughly, the cargo may cost to about Php 640,000. And the business' only responsibility is to pay Php 50 for it. Which is very much insufficient to protect and preserve the destroyed habitat.

The Php50 permit that allowed them to catch a Php640k worth of tropical fishes

If my assumptions are correct, the following violations may have been committed:
1. Mis-declared cost: P7,800 instead of P640,000
2. The cargo were from Patnanungan Island yet the permit is from Real, Quezon
3. The date of the permit is a week before whereas it has been clear that the permit is only for one-time use.
4. BFAR permit must have been secured instead of a local government's permit.
5. Fishes were caught in the wild and not from a private breeding center.

The following are the tropical fishes we saw:

Clown Fish (Amphiprion percula)

False Clown Fish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
Damselfish (Amphiprion premnas)
Sebae Anemonefish (Amphiprion sebae)
Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)
Orange Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos)
Clark's Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)
Emperor Fish (Pomacanthus imperator)

I have personally tried to reach the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for CALBARZON-4A to which Patnanungan and Real is part of. I have contacted the office of Fishing and Resources Management Division (FRMD), Ms. Virginia Bartolome, however, their reply is that if the local government units allow such activity, they can't do anything about it.

Below is the route of the boat where this tropical fish trade is transported across Lamon Bay.

View Real - Patnanungan in a larger map

The problem I see is that a law is now available, however, the agency that requires to enforce the law seems to have no power or authority in reality. If the habitat of these species are destroyed, then the first people to be affected of such loss would be the people of Real and Patnanungan, Quezon themselves. The rich underwater environment of Lamon Bay would easily diminish if the habitat of these fishes were destroyed, and initial effect would be affecting their tourism.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources should ensure that the people of Quezon be educated with the adverse effects of their activity and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources must learn how to uphold the law; while the local government must know the consequences of their actions before it is too late.

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