Laguna Lake Scandal Gets Worse

By Cesar T. Bilowan

Officials of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on Saturday dismissed as “baseless” and “unfounded” accusations by a fisherfolk alliance that fishkills that hit Laguna Lake was due to invasion by ‘knife fish’ allegedly orchestrated by the government to kill the livelihood of small fishermen and fishpen operators in the lake.

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) claimed the government was benefiting from the invasion of the killer fish because it wanted to turn the lake into a commercial and industrial economic hub under a public-private partnership agreement.

Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap said the knife fish spread like amoeba in Laguna Lake because the LLDA and the Office of the President wanted to clear the lake of fishing and fish-culturing activities before they offer the lake to businesses.

LLDA general manager Neric Acosta, however, said the problem of knife fish invasion affects not just the small fishermen but even the big fishpen operators as the knife fish goes into pens big or small. “How could it be possible that someone would want it to happen when every stakeholder in the over 90,000-hectare lake is affected,” Acosta said.

Last week, an estimated 10,000 kilograms of “tilapia” were lost in a series of fishkills that hit Laguna de Bay, Asia’s third largest fresh water lake.

Calamba City agriculture officer Severino Caraan said that last Friday, about 10 metric tons of dead tilapia were recovered from the Laguna Lake, particularly in the coastal villages of Masili and Sucol in this city.

“Fish pen operators said the fishkill started last week but our office only received their reports on Monday,” Caraan said.

He said the fishkill has affected more than 20 fish pen operators, who reported losing around 60 kilos of tilapia daily in the past weeks, equivalent to about P250,000 based on the farmgate price of P25 per kilo.

LLDA information officer Elsie Mistica said fishkills were also reported in Jala-jala, Rizal and Pangil, Laguna last week.

Acosta said the LLDA and other concerned agencies of the government have yet to determine the cause of the incident, and they have advised residents against fishing in the area as the dead fish may pose health risks to those who will eat them.

Several fishermen have already stopped fishing not only because of the bad taste of their catch, but to await for the release next week of the water sampling results, he said.

Acosta said the LLDA is investigating the series of fishkills that hit the Laguna Lake the past week.

He also said they have sent monitoring teams to find out what caused the incidents, and whether or not these are isolated.

It has likewise conducted water sampling in the area, and the result will be known in five days or within this week.

Pamalakaya had also claim knife-fish invasion of Laguna Lake reduced production of small fishermen and operators by 70 to 90 percent because LLDA and other concerned government agencies are working on the Laguna Lake Master Development Project that will involve 54 major projects amounting to P400 billion in total investments.

The group said the projects include the dredging of Laguna Lake, the construction of 100-kilometer road and dike from Taytay, Rizal, to Sta. Cruz, Laguna, and a plan by two water concessionaires — Maynilad and Manila Water — to source potable water from the lake.

Hicap alleged the government is apparently ready to guarantee them a daily extraction of 300 million cubic meters and 100 million cubic meters of fresh water from the lake.

But Acosta stressed that the cause of the knife fish in the lake was accidental and triggered by the “Ondoy” flooding in 2009.

For her part, Leah Villanueva, BFAR’s regional inland research station chief, said Lake officials initially suspected oxygen depletion due to sudden weather changes in which the surface water is pushed down and the bottom water surfaces, adding the same had happened in Taal Lake last year killing more than 700 metric tons of milkfish.

However, she said, BFAR still has to wait for the water test results to make a conclusion.

Villanueva confirmed the presence of the knife fish, an ornamental but carnivorous fish, competing with the endemic tilapia and milkfish in the lake.

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