The Fishermen of Zambales

by Dr. Wenihilda Magayones, University of the Philippines, Diliman

21 June 2010

Manila - Zambales, a picture of tranquil, unspoiled black-sand beaches, is close enough to Metro Manila for weekend jaunts, yet idyllic enough to be a respite from urban drudgery. A stroll along the shore, feeling the fine sand beneath your feet, and perhaps a quick dip in the sea, is a great way to start a day. The province’s mountains are just as captivating. But the sea and mountains of Zambales are more than just visual feasts. Marine and agricultural harvests are bountiful, and fresh food is always at hand.

At night, the fishermen of Zambales set their nets to trap fish. Many of them are engaged in trawling, wherein fish are corralled with a large net (trawl) pulled by boats or, in the case of Iba, Zambales, by the fishermen themselves. In manual trawling, two pairs of people about 40 meters apart pull a net towards the shore — a common practice among families living near the coast. The trawlers synchronize their movements to make the job easier, with one person usually counting from one to three to regulate the intervals of pulling. Still, the activity leaves the fishermen’s hands red and swollen.

Manual trawlers divide the catch among themselves. When boats are used, the boat owner gives part of the catch to those who assisted and keeps the rest for himself/herself. If the fishermen haul in more than their food requirements, they sell the surplus in the marketplace or to middlemen, who buy the fish, transport them to the market, and sell them for a profit. Compared to the prices in Metro Manila, fish are very cheap in Zambales. Often, special and highly valued fish, such as talakitok and lapu-lapu, are sold at half the price they fetch in city markets.

Zambales fishermen prefer trawling because it requires neither a large quantity of boat fuel nor modern equipment. Nevertheless, this activity poses a major environmental risk. Since the nets have very small grids, there is a lack of selectivity. Small fish which are accidentally caught and killed are merely discarded afterwards. Furthermore, the dragging of the nets disturbs other marine life forms and damages the seabed and coral reefs.

Simple and carefree aptly describe the fishermen of Zambales, who rely on the ocean’s largesse for their livelihood. Yet, “simple and carefree but conscientious” would be a better blend, but the fishermen have to work at acquiring the third trait. The abundance of the sea is not inexhaustible, and the balance of the ecosystem that sustains it is fragile. The fishermen have a big responsibility towards their environment; they must learn to protect their aquatic resources or lose their chief source of food and income.