The country's major river basins and lakes will be seeded with fingerlings of indigenous and non-invasive fish species over the next five years in a program which the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries calls Project BASIL or Balik Sigla sa Ilog at Lawa.
The National Inland Fisheries Enhancement Program of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), an agency under the DAF, was designed to provide Filipinos greater access to available food and address poverty and hunger in the countryside.
I have personally given BFAR the instructions to design this program because of my realisation that Rivers and Lakes in the country no longer have the same amount of fish population as they had many years ago when the use of chemicals in agriculture and illegal fishing methods like "Electric Fishing" and cyanide was not widespread.
As a young boy, I, my brothers and friends used to go to the nearby rivers or just in the ponds near the rice fields to catch fish.
Those days are gone now.
Overfishing and the use of illegal and destructive fishing methods have virtually decimated the indigenous fish species in the major Lakes and Rivers of the country.
Project Basil has identified seven major lakes and six major river basins all over the country as the initial areas targeted for the fingerlings seeding.
The biggest of the first group of major lakes is Laguna de Bay with 90,000-hectares, Lake Lanao 34,700 hectares, Taal Lake 23,400 hectares, Lake Mainit (Surigao del Norte) 17,300 hectares, Naujan Lake (Oriental Mindoro) 11,000 hectares, Buluan Lake (Maguindanao) 6,500 hectares and Lake Sebu (South Cotabato) 354 hectares.
The major rivers are in the Cagayan River Basin (2.5-m hectares), Mindanao River Basin (2.3-million hectares), Agusan River Basin (1-million hectares), Pampanga River Basin (974,000 hectares) Abra River Basin (512,500 hectares) and Bicol River Basin (377,100 hectares).
Among the indigenous species which will be seeded in the Lakes and Rivers are Ayungin, Biya, Kanduli, Martinique, the native catfish or Hito and the Black Head Eel or Egat.
Acceptable fish species which are not considered threats to ecological balance in the Lakes and Rivers like Tilapia and Bangus will also be introduced.
The Project will require the following steps:
1. Lake or River Profiling which will involve a scientific study on the actual condition of the bodies of water and ecological considerations.
This would mean that no foreign fish species will be introduced in an area if it could threaten the balance of the indigenous fish population.
2. Social Preparation which involves the organisation of the communities around the Lakes and along the Rivers and emphasise to them the things needed to sustain the project.
Communities will also be involved in the establishment of hatcheries so that future fingerling requirements will be bought by the government from them.
Fishing equipment like Fiberglass Boats called FB Pagbabago will also be distributed to fishing families.
3. Lake and River Rehabilitation which would include clean-up activities, the establishment of brush park for fish breeding and the dispersal of fingerlings of acceptable species.
4. Lake and River Management which would involve the local government units who will be tasked to enact development plans.
The LGUs will also handle the monitoring of fishing activities and in reporting the volume of the catch.
By 2018, an estimated 26-million fingerlings will be seeded in the Rivers and Lakes and by the end of the term of President Rody Duterte, Project BASIL targets to seed about 210-million fingerlings.
Project BASIL starts in Laguna de Bay this year to address the expected shortage of fish supply in Metro Manila due to the dismantling of fish pens in the lake.
Local officials of towns, cities and provinces surrounding Laguna de Bay and other stakeholders will be invited by the DAF to a forum before the end of this month for the presentation and validation of Project BASIL.
With the launching of the program in Laguna de Bay, even Metro Manila residents will soon be able to catch large Tilapia and Bangus in the Pasig River.
This will be part of the realisation of President Duterte's commitment of "Available and Affordable Food" for the Filipino people.