By Mirasol Guerrero de la Bahia
Disclaimer: This article is based on the field notes of the author originally published in Facebook Page Who Chews Katumbal.
“Give us this day our daily fish”
– Pablo Neruda, Ode to the Sea 1952.
The Philippine national government quickly responded with lockdown and enhanced community quarantine measures in the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. My thoughts wandered off to our fishing communities … what will be the impact on the lives and livelihoods of fishers.
(Thought cloud: The artisanal fishers observe social and physical distancing as they navigated the sea alone or with one or two companions, akin to quarantine? On terra, they are more vulnerable to the virus.)
I learned some answer to my curious question. The strict observance of the curfew (from eight PM to five AM) is ‘hurting’ fish capture. Below are stories from artisanal, marginal fishers of a coastal municipality in Southern Iloilo, Panay
Kuntani mga alas tres ukon alas kwatro sang kaagahon mapalawod na kami ugaling indi man pwede kay curfew pa. Ti mapalawod kami pasado alas singko, mabatak kami wala na kuha. Kung kaagahon manginaon ang isda kag damu ka makuha… Maka-ariya ka pila ka beses…
(About three or four o’clock in the morning we set out fishing but it’s not possible anymore because of the curfew … It’s already late if we sail after five in the morning, there’s no catch when we pull our nets. Early in the morning, there are many fishes when we pull our nets… We can cast and pull our nets, several times…)
Kuntani sa hapon halin pasado mga alas kwatro asta mga alas siete mapalawod kami para magbatak liwat pero nagahingagaw pa kami puli pa uma kay abtan kami curfew.
(At dusk until seven in the evening we set out fishing to pull our nets again. However, we are in a hurry to reach home to beat the curfew).
Kuntani kaagahon man kami masunod para nga makauna kami kuha sang isda para ilibud kag sa hapon makabaligya pa kami. Ugaling ga dali -dali kami panghimus sa hapon para magpauli sa uma kay maabtan basi kami sang curfew.
(Before dawn, we want to wait for the first catch of the day and be able to sell. But there is still the curfew. In the afternoon, we want to sell the fresh catch but we are in hurry to reach home to beat the curfew).
In this brief report exposed were several ‘blows’ to fishers due to the curfew. Fishers now spend shorter hours casting and pulling their nets, resulting in shrinking income from daily fish capture. A fish vendor’s access of the fish catch as well as her daily schedule of selling them encumbered by the curfew. Since the implementation of the lockdown and enhanced community quarantine measures, most households rely on the ambulant vendors’ delivery of fresh produce including fish. Apparently, the curfew from 8pm to 5am applies only to persons doing regular 8am-5pm office jobs.
There is no curfew at sea, the artisanal fishers’ working hours are well-adapted to the fishing season.
My urgent appeal to the Department of Agriculture- Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) is to issue a statement exempting fishers from the curfew. The fishers (and farmers) are frontliners in food production; they safeguard food sufficiency promoting the well- being of our communities.
There are over a million, and an estimated 800,000 small-scale fishers in the Philippines. The poorest of the poor were recorded to come from fishing communities. I wonder what health measures are available for fishers to protect them from the coronavirus disease. They have endured long enough the neglect by government of public health and other social services. Now, this leaves them more vulnerable to health hazards sans COVID- 19.
“… we are lowly fishermen, men of the shore we’re cold and hungry…”
The author is an envi-activist, critic of the status quo, and friend of fishers women and men.