South Cotabato

Tilapia losses soar as new fish kill hits South Cotabato lake

Rommel Rebollido

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Tilapia losses soar as new fish kill hits South Cotabato lake
As many dead tilapia float in one section of Lake Sebu, fish cage owners frantically catch premature fish and sell them at much lower prices to avoid further losses

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – South Cotabato’s Lake Sebu has been hit by another wave of fish kill, which began on Wednesday, January 25, and so far affected millions of pesos worth of tilapia again over a three-day period. 

The ongoing fish kill, known locally as “kamahong,” is the third to hit the lake since early January, raising the number of affected fish cages to 2,023 as of Friday, January 27, in three villages. 

The losses so far were estimated by officials at some P7 million.

Lake Sebu town is currently under a state of calamity as a result of the earlier waves of kamahong, with the local government having provided assistance to affected fisherfolks in the form of food packs. 

The town council is now deliberating on a possible moratorium on fish cage operations to allow for the lake’s natural rehabilitation, which could take up to a year or longer.

The affected cages contain an estimated 253 tons of tilapia of various sizes, with an average market value of close to P18 million, according to lake warden Rudy Muyco.

Muyco said the new wave of kamahong occurred just as tilapia raisers were still trying to recover from their losses from this month’s fish kill that affected almost half of the fish cages in the lake. 

The occurrence is blamed on the depletion of dissolved oxygen in the lake, caused by the lack of sunlight. The area around the lake has been experiencing rains in recent days, with the sun barely appearing, Muyco said.

On Wednesday, many tilapia were seen floating in one section of the lake, causing fish cage operators to frantically catch the premature fish and sell them at discounted prices to avoid further losses. 

Tilapia are now sold along the roadside from P30 to P70 per kilo, depending on size, attracting wholesale buyers to the highland town, which is known among domestic tourists for its scenic spots and tilapia delicacies.

Muyco said he was disappointed that despite efforts to educate tilapia raisers on proper aquaculture practices, there are still those who ignore it and continue with unsafe practices in an attempt to save on expenses. 

“Water hyacinth abound around many fish cages, a sign that they are not maintaining proper sanitation,” he said.

He said more than half of the lake was already “technically dead” and needed drastic measures to revive it, such as a long-term moratorium where all fish pen operations must stop. 

Muyco’s call for a moratorium was supported by the head of the town council of Lake Sebu, who said they were considering the possible moratorium on fish cage operations to allow the lake to rehabilitate itself.

Vice Mayor Remie Unggol said there was a pressing need for a moratorium to save the lake and the local tilapia raising industry, which is a main source of income for many residents, particularly the indigenous T’boli people who primarily inhabit the area. 

He said what was needed was a moratorium that would last six months to even one year in order to allow the lake’s full rehabilitation. 

Unggol also said the town council would revisit an existing town ordinance on fish pen operations in the lake which has not been enforced for many years.

Lake Sebu, the largest of the three lakes in the town, has more than 5,000 fish cages, mostly for tilapia, occupying about a third of the lake’s area. Despite attempts to limit the number of fish cages in the lake, the number has increased over the years instead.

Lake Sebu has at present more than 2,000 fish pen operators, many of whom are businessmen and government people from other places, according to Unggol. –

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