I was snorkeling, looking for specimens for our museum’s collection, in the reef of Gaspar Island, Marinduque, when I heard metals banging underwater. Two boats of fishermen were busy in the reef crest in the horizon. I swam towards them to witness their spectacular teamwork to capture fish. It was suspended from a rope using rocks as weights in the water while skindiving fishermen were moving them up and down, pounding the substrate.Others were guiding a net underwater, positioning it on the reef. Later, a school of scads were caught in the net. While some free dive to guide the net underwater, others in the boat pulled it up, untangling their catch. Then they moved to the other side of reef to catch more.
Fishermen in the surface suspend the rock and metal propeller pounding the substrate.
Others dive down to position the net in the reef.
Fisherman surfaces for air.
Untangling their catch.
I wasn’t sure at first, but my colleagues confirmed that the method was indeed “muro-ami” . This reef fishing technique which means “reef hunting” came from the Japanese. Just like in the movie with the same name, a cordon of fishermen (minors in the movie) drive the fish towards a net while others pound the coral by means of heavy weight like metal or rocks. This is destructive to the corals. Less rugosity (measure of a coral reef’s complexity), high algal cover (algae growth over the corals) , abundance of sea urchins (indicator of high nutrients), and presence of crown-of-thorns (starfish that feeds on corals) are indications that the reef in that area is degraded. The use of muro-ami is illegal according to the Fisheries Code (RA 8550) & Fisheries Administrative Order 203.
clip from movie “Muro Ami”
However our country’s fishermen are among the poorest of the poor and that fishing maybe their only source of living. I have little knowledge of Marinduque’s coastal resources management practices nor the conditions in other coastal sites. But I hope that something is being done in Marinduque to help these lowly fishermen while still protecting our seas. The clear waters and secluded white pocket beaches may be interesting and inviting (see my next post), but what’s happening underwater is a different story.