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Vol. V,    No. 25      July 31 - August 6, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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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 projects.

By Lyn V. Ramo
Northern Dispatch
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’ water cradle.

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.

Answering reporters’ 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 bodies. 

Benguet fishery 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.

Lepanto’s impact 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) said recently. 

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 Abra River 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.     

Wakit, the 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.”

Dang-awan corroborated Wakit’s finding adding that dams also closed the gates to the coastal areas where the migratory fish go to hatch and produce fingerlings. 

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 said.

“It’s now like survival of the fittest,” says Dang-awan of the eels and ludong.

While Dang-awan 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.  

In Baguio 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




© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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