Up until early this year, whenever and wherever I’d see one of those portable fish traps underwater, I would rip the their plastic mesh open with my dive knife. Whether there were fish inside or not, I made sure to render them useless. Over several weeks, a dozen or so traps came under my blade. A handful of other divers used to do the same. But there would always be more! There seems to be an endless supply of these green intruders…
Upon seeing an old fish trap with its mesh all patched up on one of my dives, a sinking realization dawned on me: breaking those cages only served to anger the local fishermen, and my actions, while well-intended, didn’t really help the situation.
The situation is this. Those fish traps, called ‘bobo’ in these parts, are used by islanders to catch reef fish — usually damsels, wrasses, and sometimes sweetlips and groupers get caught — for local consumption. But also for supplying the aquarium trade (but that’s only anecdotal). I wouldn’t call it an efficient system. Worse, the practice is harmful to the marine environment.
The reasons why I consider these traps harmful:
- Indiscriminate fishing
- They are made of a bamboo frame and a plastic mesh, invariably green in color. Dimensions are about 4ft x 2ft x 1ft on average. The holes of the mesh are so small, just a little bigger than a ₱5 coin, that juvenile fish and small fish with no commercial or nutritional value are unnecessarily caught. You might call them by-catch.
- Destructive practice
- I’ve observed the fishermen deploy their bobos in two ways: throwing them overboard from a banca, or hurling them onto the reef from shallow water. Each time these heavy cages drop to the sea floor or land on the reef, coral heads are either bruised or broken, marine life is harmed. Each time they are retrieved by the fishermen, more senseless damage.
Last week, an unwelcome sight greeted me as I did my safety stop. A new bobo, in the pictures here, sitting at around 3m. Whoever had placed it there clearly chose the location, a natural ledge on the coral reef, and deliberately weighed it down with live coral that had been uprooted from their foundations. This was at the Mansud Wall dive site, northern coast of Talikud Island. The coral cover there, in my amateur observation, is still healthy. But, for how long…?
Their continued unsustainable fishing methods makes it clear that the local fishermen of Samal do not understand the relationship between a thriving coral reef and healthy fish stock. It is sadly obvious that they do not know the importance of coral to the marine environment.
I’ve been trying to secure funding, resources and volunteers for an education campaign targeted at Samal’s fishing communities. It’s slow going, but I hope to be able to get some support before it’s too late. I didn’t touch that bobo, I left it as it was. The only way to solve this problem is to be in good terms with the locals and get them to sit down and see how passé and unintelligent this practice truly is.