On Sunday, May 26, BFAR issued warnings that the dissolved oxygen, which should be between 5 to 6 and which is how fish breathe, was at a dangerously low level of 2.8 parts per million (ppm). Fish cage owners were advised to move their cages or harvest early. On Monday evening, about 10 cages were reported to have had mortality. By Tuesday, BFAR continued to decline and the same announcement was dispensed. By Wednesday, the DO went as low as 0.52ppm at the bottom and 0.86ppm at the surface.
By Thursday, nearly 200 metric tons of fish were dead and floating. At the inspection of RED Maria Paz Luna by the afternoon, 33 cages still had floating dead fish waiting to be hauled to shore and buried. Newly dug mortality pits were at over capacity.
An emergency Executive Committee meeting was called this morning, March 31, to address the crisis. BFAR has again reported a declining DO, 0.33ppm at the surface and 0.06ppm at the bottom. BFAR strongly recommended that remaining fish cage owners harvest immediately. Not all fish cage owners are capable harvesters, since they do not own large boats for hauling. The harvesters are currently hauling dead fish from their own cages.
Existing boats will also temporarily serve as aerators until water quality improves.
Regulation of the cage industry started in 2006 when the carrying capacity was established and 6000 cages were decreed to be allowed. The Unified Rules and Regulations were passed by the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape and Management Board (TVPL PAMB) and dismantling started in earnest with the help of the Batangas Provincial Government and its newly created task force.
By 2011, what was once 14,000 cages was down to 6,000 even dipping below that during certain periods.
But not all rules were followed. Stocking density was routinely violated and regulators had no way to count the fish already in the cages. Required certifications that owners had mortality pits for daily mortality and fish kills were falsified. Rules requiring floating feeds, the excess uneaten of which will merely be eaten later, took years to reach critical mass of compliance.
An industry coalition, who is represented in the PAMB conducts monthly clean ups. The Taal Lake Aquaculture Alliance polices its own ranks, but it does not represent majority of the fish cage owners. Worse, what was intended for democratizing access to the lake -- requirements that registrants must be local residents, was flouted. Financiers and feed companies were the real owners and the registered locals were mere caretakers.
As it turns out, the industry is incapable of addressing large fishkill incidences due to lack of large harvesters. The mortality pits certified as existing were nowhere to be found, the free trainings all caretakers attended might as well have been in a foreign language.
Currently, there are 121 affected fish cages in Barangays Boso boso and Gulod in Laurel, and in Barangay Bañaga in Agoncillo, Batangas. The fishkill is already estimated at 605 Metric Tons.
This is not expected to affect supply and prices, and the public is advised that this merely comprises a small percentage and while they should continue to check their fish purchases for freshness, there is no cause for alarm in the market.
The PAMB Execom resolved today that owners are given only 24 hours upon notice by a Municipal Agriculturist to remove dead fish from their cages or face sanctions.
Revisions to the Unified Rules and the carrying capacity as well as to the Management Plan and a draft TVPL bill will also be crafted and the public consultations scheduled.
Photo courtesy of an anonymous concerned citizen