Cordillera Fish Fast
Disappearing; Mines, Dams Blamed
Mining may yield wealth
for investors and dams for energy, but these are proving to be a bane to
the Cordillera’s fisherfolk. In this mountain region, fishes and other
aquatic resources are now endangered species as a result of mining and dam
By Lyn V. Ramo
Posted by Bulatlat
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet
- With mining projects being opened in the Cordillera nowadays, it won’t
be long before indigenous fishery resources in the region would be gone.
This is because by
experience, regional officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic
Resources (BFAR) revealed during the Kapihan (coffee talk) sa Benguet here
last week, mines as well as dams along the Cordillera’s major rivers have
significantly diminished the region’s fishery resources. Aside from its
rich mineral resources, Cordillera happens to be the northern Philippines’
In particular, dam
construction has resulted in the depletion of the migrant species of river
fish, which hatch along coastal towns, the BFAR executives said.
Likewise, said Dr.
Rebecca G. Dang-awan, regional director of BFAR in the Cordillera, mines
are bad for the fish. Mercury, which is used for mineral extraction and
production, is known to poison the fish and the environment.
inquiry on the impact of mines on fisheries, Dang-awan said it is an
environmental question which her colleagues in the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should answer. A BFAR study on
carp in mines-affected ponds and riverbeds, she said, revealed traces of
mercury - a heavy metal that remains suspended at the bottom of water
officer Pino M. Wakit also said that siltation has adversely affected fish
production along the riverbanks such as in Tinongdan, Itogon town, Benguet.
These areas are located just below the Benguet province’s former mine
district that hosted Itogon Suyoc Mines, Inc. and Benguet Corporation. To
date, only Philex Mining Corporation is engaged in mining activities in
Itogon and Tuba towns.
on the Abra River
Fishes in the Abra
River, which traverses Ilocos Sur
and Abra provinces, also in northern Philippines, are also reportedly
dying due to the mining operations of Lepanto Consolidated Mining
Corporation, the environmental group Save the Abra River Movement (STARM)
Folks interviewed by STARM
said the loss of aquatic and plant life in downstream areas is most
visible from Camay to Besayot in Mankayan, Benguet. Data from APIT-TAKO
(Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland) also reveals that when
Lepanto started a fishpond project in Camay in March 2001, all the
fingerlings died after only four days.
Fishpond owners in Besayot
also say that when their ponds became contaminated with water from the
Mankayan River, 80 percent of the fingerlings die.
Even the udang
(shrimp) and igat (eel) are reportedly becoming rare. Residents
have attested to fish disease and deterioration, aside from a drop in fish
catch. Fisherfolk near the mouth of the
in Vigan and Bantay, Ilocos Sur have also complained of “kurikong”
(deformities) in fishes over the past few years.
Villagers also talk about
the fish kill that occurs every rainy season. For instance, on Good Friday
2003, fish kills were reported in Quirino, Ilocos Sur. In May the same
year, another fish kill was reported in Manabo, Luba and Tubo, Abra.
The loss in aquatic life
is a major change in the life support system of the communities who rely
solely on freshwater resources for food.
Dams closed down
the gates to the coasts
Aside from being
adversely affected by siltation and heavy metal and chemical effluents
from mining operations, upstream fish production has also declined due to
the construction of dams in the river systems. Mining companies build
dams to contain tailings while hydro-electric power plants have dams to
get enough pressure to run turbines.
officer-in-charge of the regional fisheries management division, also
blames dam builders and planners for providing no “fish ladders” thus
resulting in the depletion of river fish.
“Some fish species
found in the Agno River and other Cordillera rivers like igat and
ludong have dwindled because there are no fish ladders that are
necessary components of any dam project,” Wakit said. “I don’t know if
the previous dam planners are aware of that.”
corroborated Wakit’s finding adding that dams also closed the gates to the
coastal areas where the migratory fish go to hatch and produce
“Ang mga ito ay di
nanganganak sa (These do not lay eggs in) inland waters,” Dang-awan
points out. “Lumalaki lang sila sa mga ilog” (They just grow in rivers).
She said that fish hatch along the seacoasts and later travel upstream.
Due to the dams, less and less of these fish varieties find their way into
the cleavage in dams so that only a few are now seen upstream, Dang-awan
“It’s now like
survival of the fittest,” says Dang-awan of the eels and ludong.
refused to comment on the environmental impact of mining on fishery and
marine resources, she was vocal about the dam builders’ lapses by not
coordinating with the BFAR the plans of dam construction. She also
confirmed that no dams in the country have fish ladders.
The Cordillera, said
the fishery officials, is the only landlocked region in the country and
its fish resources are taken from limited surface water resources. The
mountain region’s biggest fish yield comes from Lamut, Ifugao, where the
Magat Dam submerged several villages.
Ambuclao and Binga
dams in Benguet also provide freshwater fish such as carp and tilapia
but, according to Dang-awan, the volume produced in these dams still do
not warrant fair competition with lowland tilapia in terms of price
per kilo of fish.
City, fish vendors from Ambuklao in
Bokod town, sell in places where the lowland-raised tilapias are
not visible, Dang-awan observes. Ambuklao tilapia sells at
P85-P100 per kilo while those from Pangasinan, Bulacan and La Union sell
at P45-P70 per kilo. Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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