I originally posted most of this on Twitter, but have decided to elaborate and make it an official blog post.
Today in Bolisong, I accompanied a fisher-woman (though she was proud being called a fisherman) into her fishing corrals. How did I get here? She casually invited me to go fishing with her the next day, mostly as a joke, and was shocked and entertained when I told her I would be there. George and I were meant to go on a dolphin watching tour but there was a small chance of bad weather, so we decided to can that idea and go fishing instead. [As you can see, the weather was glorious, but I do not regret not going].
When we got there, she explained to me that most of the food they catch in the corrals are for their family to eat because they do not have enough money to buy food. If they don’t catch fish, well they go without protein. Sometimes if they have a good catch, season dependent, they will sell the extra. Today, we did not catch much. There were a plethora of small spider conchs, which they call saang, and two small squid. She laughed and said the squid they normally catch are about a foot long. I have a sneaking suspicion she went out earlier in the morning and caught more, thinking we wouldn’t show up.
I am constantly reminded here of the dedication, resilience, and work ethic of communities wholly dependent on the sea for their livelihood. These communities care deeply about the sustainability of their resource, because without it they have no food. While not everyone puts in the same amount of effort, this fisher replants mangroves on the coastline near her home so that one day, there will be more habitat for fish to breed and grow. On our way to the corral, she picked trash out of the water and lamented about pollution from the upland agriculture. Recently, typhoon Odette destroyed many mangroves (including some she planted), corals, boats, homes, and took many lives. The typhoon is at the front of everyone’s minds. They are not only concerned that their boats are damaged, but they are concerned the environment is also damaged and the fish won’t come back. Many people talked to me about how they are worried the marine reserves won’t work anymore because of the typhoon and if they need to protect other areas instead. It is abundantly clear that the people of these communities care.
This region is not historically used to strong typhoons because the direction they generally travel requires the storm to pass over multiple islands that weaken it before it gets to their island. However, typhoon Odette did not weaken. It was a shock to many of the coastal communities in Negros Oriental, and they worry about more in the future. It is naive, colonialist, and arrogant to think we (westerners) have all the answers and can or should prescribe solutions. Especially when our contribution to global climate change is so much higher than other nations and directly impacting other’s lives. Especially impacting those who live in coastal nations who face sea-level rise, loss of biodiversity that they depend on for food, and increasing storms. This experience also reinvigorates my anger toward those who insist that no fishing is sustainable, that humans have to stop eating fish all together without any consideration to a large part of the world who need it.
I want to close with a slightly paraphrased quote that I heard numerous times throughout my interviews that I think exemplifies the attitude of fishers in this area. Many fishers said to me, “Without fish, there is nothing. If we don’t protect them, there will be no fish for future generations.”
Photos taken with permission.