By Chloe Mari A. Hufana

FILIPINO fisherfolk on Sunday decried declining fish catch due to black sand mining in Cagayan province in northern Philippines.

“Due to the large amount of black sand extracted in Aparri, Cagayan, the land has been eroded,” Martin V. Solares, chairman of the Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Council, told a news briefing. “The fishes are disturbed; they’re no longer entering our nets and their offspring are dying.”

He said fish catch has dwindled to as low as three kilos daily from 300 kilos in 2012. Some of his fellow fishermen have shifted to construction work, he added.

Mr. Solares said the miners left two years ago but there are still remnants of black sand mining in his area that make it difficult for them to go back to normal. About 15,000 fishermen are affected by the mining.

At the briefing, Alyansa Tigil Mina campaign officer Bernie D. Llarin cited reports about a facility being set up in Cagayan for processing black sand for exports.

He told BusinessWorld later by telephone that in San Felipe, Zambales, 17 ships were dredging the river almost daily in March.

Dredging ships partly owned by Chinese companies have navigational systems that run over the fishing nets of the fisherfolk, Mr. Llarin said.

Dredging involves removing sediments and debris from the bottom of the lake, river, harbors and other bodies of water.

“One time in Zambales, we saw fishermen repairing their nets because of damage from the ships,” he said.

Mr. Llarin said the greatest challenge Zambales fisherfolk face is the declining fish catch, just like the fishermen in Cagayan. “Now, it’s hard to catch anything.”

Fisherfolk also have had to fish farther away from shore to avoid excavating ships, which means more gasoline and time.

About 100 houses had been damaged by soil erosion caused by dredging, he added, citing the Zambales Ecological Network.

Mr. Llarin said the provincial and local governments of Zambales have done little for the almost 18,000 fishermen in San Felipe, San Narciso and Botolan in Zambales.

Affected fisherfolk have petitioned the regional office of the Environmental department to stop the river dredging, he added.

Fernando L. Hicap, chairman of Pamalakaya, called for a halt to all reclamation activities, noting that the destruction of the marine ecosystem threatens the country’s food security of the country.

“The impact on the marine ecosystem is irreversible,” he said in a text message. “If this continues, it’s not far-fetched that we’ll be relying on imported fish. In fact, the volume of our imports is increasing every year.”