Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The basnigs of Parang beach

Dwindling catch … that’s what this fisherman-crab trapper (left) at Bgy Osmena on the outskirts of Jose Panganiban was telling Metro-Manila-based Mambulaoan Sammy P Hernandez when he and his family went to the Osmena beach six years ago for a swim. The man said their catch could no longer sustain a daily living because there is now less fish at the Mambulao Bay since the mangrove areas along the coastlines where marine life spawned had been demolished for housing projects by land developers and by firewood-charcoal makers.– Photo by AP Hernandez.
Batch ’65,
Ports Moresby

TIME WAS WHEN fish was aplenty and cheap, and rice was in abundance and likewise cheap.

Thus, hunger was unheard of in our little, laid-back coastal town of Mambulao, Camarines Norte, in the Philippines.

It was circa 1950s-1960s and I was just beginning to know how to make a living to chip in to the growing needs of our small household.

Having grown in a coastal town where fish was being offloaded onto our shore from “basnig” (lift-net outrigger boats) every morning almost seven days a week especially during summer months from February to May, I became familiar with some of the most common table fish that could be found in every household in our coastal barrio called Parang.

It also goes without saying that I knew what the family was having for “ulam” during meal, whether it was breakfast, lunch or supper.

In short, rice, then very cheap, was conveniently paired, as always, with fish. And that would be galunggong (round scads) cooked in variations of Bicolano culinary ingenuity.

With our house just seven hundred meters away from the shore where these migrant fishing boats docked shortly after the sun had risen, I would readily rush to the seaside to meet the first boats that would land ashore, usually heavy with catch – the famous galunggong and something more.

A lone fishing boat is docked on the shore. Notice the brownish bay water and rubbish strewn on the beach.
From the shore, we would know a basnig which was still a kilometer away if it had good catch: it always looked like only a third of its hull was above the water and would only show its four to six poles flying identification banners and flags.

And as it neared the shore, the people lined along the edge of the bay water would applaud, as if to welcome it as well as its catch for the taking later.

But of course, I was not satisfied with just waiting for the huge baskets (tiklis or banyera) of catch to be offloaded by the fishing crew and dumped into the sand just next to the water that was constantly lapping up the beach.

I would climb onto the boat myself and go straight down in the belly of the hull where its huge diesel engine sat, but still humming mutely.

I knew there were more fish strewn all over the place which the crew wouldn’t bother about. This used to be my secret fishing ground and my “catch” was plenty, as always.

But I was not alone in this enterprise. There were other kids like me who were eager to make a haul right from the huge baskets that were piled on top of each other on the boat’s wide deck, ready to be hauled down to the shore along with the other catch, while awaiting “viajeros” in a convoy of several trucks to take them to the provincial capital of Daet or to Manila.

The Parang beach and its shanties, with the Mambulao mountain sides showing in the background.
On a lucky day of the week, there would be at least 50 basnigs calling on our shore and they would pile up along the entire length of the beach.

So you could just imagine the excitement of the people from my barrio, which is just a kilometer away from the poblacion but separated by a small river over which a meter-wide wooden bridge spanned.
By the time the sun was angled in the sky at about 9am, most of those who came to the beach early morning would have gone home; they would now be gutting and scaling the fish they either bought at almost giveaway prices or just plucked them from the fish baskets as they were being hauled down the boat, over which the fishing crews did not bother or complain about.

With each of the basnig heavily laden with catch, the crew did not mind parting with their fish, which had become a practice over the years.

For one thing, they were all strangers in our place and had no reason to complain.

After all they all had been from far away towns in Bicol and had chosen our beach as a strategic landing site for their catch; it was near the highway leading to Manila through which the viajeros could conveniently transport their goods.

With this scenario going on day in day out, and with fish piling up at home – either fry-roasted or sun-dried as “da-ing” or “tuyo”, I grew sick and tired having it three times a day during meals.

In fact, I was dying for meat if even only for once a week – especially on a Sunday – just to break the monotony in my taste buds, courtesy of what mother would serve during meals.

This picture of is reminiscent of the 50s when villagers converged at Parang beach to wait for the coming of many basnigs from their overnight fishing gigs. Notice the clean beach sand. – Picture grab from FaceBook Taga-Jose Panganiban Ka Ba?
BUT THOSE were the days and those days of plenty were long gone.

Fish catch had dwindled over the last five decades as a result of over fishing, unsustainable fishing methods, lost of rich fishing grounds along with the coral reefs and high cost of commercial fishing operations triggered by rising prices of crude oil in the world market.

Today, the Filipino consumers no longer get sick or tired of eating galunggong as they don’t get to eat this fish as often as they used to years ago; instead they’re sick and tired about how this poor man’s fish – which accounts for some 60 per cent of the national protein consumption and the cheapest source of protein – has been priced as if it was gold and became too costly for most households across the country.

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