By Rafael D. Guerrero III

Laguna de Bay, the largest freshwater lake in the country and the third largest in Southeast Asia, has an area of 90,000 hectares and average depth of 2.5 meters. Its fisheries consist of 14 indigenous and 19 introduced fishes, shrimps, and mollusks. In 2015, the lake produced 96,042 metric tons of aquatic products that were harvested by more than 13,000 small fishers. With overfishing and siltation of the lake caused by degradation of its watersheds, the catch of open water fishers has declined.

A traditional passive fishing gear that is environmentally-friendly known as the “bunbon” has benefited small fishers in Laguna de Bay for many years. The bunbon is a fish shelter or “fish aggregating device” (FAD) that is made up of floating water hyacinths contained by nylon netting and held in place by bamboo poles that are stuck into the bottom. Fish are attracted to the structure as a refuge and food substrate provided by the plants.

In the coastal barangay of Lingga, Calamba City, Laguna, we met Montano Cruz, the vice chairman of the Barangay Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (BFARMC), who support of the City Agriculturist’s Office, the BFARMC built five units of bunbon with a diameter of about 30 meters each in the 10-hectare fish sanctuary of the barangay at a cost of P10,000 each, according to Cruz.

The fishes that congregate in the bunbon are caught using gill nets every 1-2 months. As much as 50 kilos of fish (tilapia, carp, and mudfish) are caught per bunbon. “We catch more fish during the dry season when the water level of the lake is low and water temperature is high than in the rainy season,” Cruz said. “Fishes like the tilapia breed during the rainy season along the lakeshore where submersed aquatic plants are abundant.”

We were told that more than 50 percent of the catch of the 50-100 BFARMC members from the bunbon was made up of the black-chin tilapia (Sarotherodon melanotheron), known locally as the “Arroyo” tilapia, an introduced fish in the lake. Being an exotic fish not yet well-accepted by consumers, it has a low price in the market, Cruz added. “The fish is plentiful in the lake and we will be hungry without it.”

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s June 2018 issue.