THE DEPARTMENT of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said that it will be demolishing 370 illegal fish pens along the Cavite shore of Manila Bay as part of the bay’s rehabilitation.

“We plan to demolish 271 illegal aquaculture structures in Cavite City; 97 in Kawit; and 2 in Noveleta. If you will notice, we don’t have plans of taking down even just one structure in Bacoor because of the mussel farms there,” DENR Spokesperson and Undersecretary Benny D. Antiporda said at a Laging Handa briefing Wednesday.

He added that the clearing activity will not affect any mussel farms operating legally.

Last month, the Manila Bay Inter-Agency Task Force announced that it will be dismantling fish pens, cages, and mussel farms without permits starting Sept. 7.

Notices to that effect were posted in Cavite City, Bacoor, Noveleta, and Kawit.

The group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), an organization of small fishermen, said in a Facebook post Wednesday that the plans to dismantle were not carried out on the date indicated.

According to a Department of Agriculture administrative order issued in 2015, any person caught operating fish corrals, fish traps, fish pens, fish cages or fish ponds without a license, lease or permit will be considered prima facie to be engaging in unauthorized fishing.

He said the clearing of the illegal structures will not have an impact on small-scale fisherfolk.

“(The demolition of illegal structures) will not affect small-scale fishers who are being deprived of their right of a bountiful harvest… (However), there will be some fishers who will be affected, but they are the ones who are funded by investors… These are big companies. The investment (to establish illegal structures) is not small,” Mr. Antiporda said.

Pamalakaya has estimated that the dismantling of aquaculture farms for mussels and oysters will affect the livelihoods of some 15,000 fisherfolk and coastal residents.

“The oyster and mussel aquaculture structures which will be dismantled contribute a lot to the country’s food security and fisheries production. Compared to the buildings established at reclaimed areas in Manila Bay, the mussel and oyster structures provide livelihood and supply food to thousands,” Pamalakaya Chairman Fernando L. Hicap said in a statement issued on Sept. 6.

In a separate statement Wednesday, non-government organization Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) called on the DENR to withdraw its order to destroy fish pens and mussel and oyster farms in the Cavite area.

“DENR’s claim that these livelihood structures are a source of environmental degradation in the bay area is ridiculous. We know that the real reason behind these demolitions is to make way for a way more environmentally destructive project, the Cavite Province Land Reclamation and Development Project, which aims to create five islands located in the municipal waters of Cavite City, Kawit, Rosario and Noveleta,” the group said.

It described the DENR’s planned demolition as “inhumane and totally irrational” since this was taking place in the middle of a pandemic.

“(Many of the affected fisherfolk and coastal residents) are mussel producers. Destroying their farms will profoundly impact our shellfish supply as Cavite alone produces a third of the total mussels consumed in the country. Fishing families will also be left homeless, placing them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and other threats to their health,” Agham added. — Angelica Y. Yang