Monday, 11 June 2012

Commentary: Falling in love with Mercedes fish port

Rodel Vargas, 51, proudly shows off a 10kg bankolis. – More MWBuzzpics by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ after the story.

Editor, MWBuzz

ONE morning last April, I visited the fish port in Mercedes, a bustling fishing town in CamNorte, and immediately fell in love with the shiny, deep-blue-skinned tuna I just fondled.

For all you know, I first saw the fish port in 1981.

It was standing all by itself next to the bay water at the tip of the national road, and the nearest house was some 100 meters away, or even farther, and what you could see on your left all the way to the fish port was the blue waters of Mercedes Bay.

How times have changed, because coming here that morning, I lost my way, my sense of direction screwed up by piles and piles of houses that now took over both sides of national road, and the bay waters were nowhere to be seen.

I asked the fish port manager/caretaker, 51-year-old Rodel Vargas, where the “bankolis” I was holding and the heaps and heaps of other tuna packed in about 20 huge styrofoam boxes, came from. (Bankolis, a local tuna name, is one of the tuna species.)

Vargas replied: … Mambulao … they were just delivered here in a big refrigerated truck.

Surprised, I asked again: Oww….Mambulao … how did it happen?

I told him I was from Mambulao and was just bumming around at their fish port.

“The bankolis was caught somewhere near Mambulao by a commercial operator and was landed at the port in Osmena … then, a viajero brought it here for final delivery to Navotas …” Vargas explained. (Osmena is a baranggay just outside in the northern tip of Jose Panganiban where a municipal fish port is located.)

“But why land it in JP only to be brought here… bakit di na lang sila dumeretso dito sa Mercedes and unload the fish here…?”

“It’s a common practice among commercial operators plying near Mambulao Bay and even within the bay ... to land the catch in Osmena instead of coming here… malaki ang tipid sa krudo at segurado ang buyer.”

I asked: Do they pay anything for whatever they landed every time at Osmenia? Meaning … is the municipal government earning something from catch landed at its port?”

Answer: “I really don’t know … but when the fish gets here, it is assessed for tariff duties and the viajero pays … then if he wants to sell it to a second buyer, it’s up to him…”

But as far as the Mercedes fish port is concerned, it’s making tons from the fish coming in.

Like for instance today, there were about 100 styrofoam boxes of bankolis that had been assessed for tariff duties. Each box contained an average of 10 heads, each weighing from 10kg to 15kg.

“We collected about P1,200 today from “bankolis” alone …there had also been other fish such as galunggong (skuds), maya-maya and dilis (anchovies).”

Vargas said the fish fort charges P12 per box, which is broken down into three items – unloading -  P4; transferring – P4; and marketing – P4.

He was proud because they operate an integrated fish trading facility that has become an icon in CamNorte.

In fact, the place is famous for its “bulungan” trading, where the haggling for prices are done secretly through whispering mode: the buyer whispers his bid to the fish-owner, who would keep the info to himself until he heard the best bid from others. The highest bid gets the fish.

“Dito ang bagsakan ng mga huli galling sa iba’t ibang fishing ground sa Quezon province at sa Bicol … may yelo kami rito at refrigeration facilities … sagana sa tubig at koryente.”

He said the fish port employs about 20 men who do the unloading, hauling and other jobs.

For all you know, the town of Mercedes faces the Pacific Ocean as does (Mambulao) Jose Panganiban.

But the bay here is free from pollution unlike Mambulao Bay, which is plagued by silt and mud from all over the gold mining areas dotting the municipality, making the water brownish, if not totally muddy.

Fish in Mambulao Bay must have fled to some other places where they could be safe from pollution.

When one of the mining silt ponds of mountain-perched Johson Gold Mining Corp collapsed recently and released more than 200 tons of mining wastes that instantly flooded a community below it, baranggay officials in Bagong-bayan noted that there had been no “fish kill” despite the tons of mining wastes and debris that ended up on the shallow portion of the coastal water.

“There was no more fish to kill in Mambulao Bay … that’s why no fish was found dead after the flooding,” commented one Mambulaoan, who was familiar with the mining pond’s tragedy.

He added, tonge-in-cheek: Fish at the bay has migrated to Quezon and Mercedes, scared away by silt pollution.

The bay water in Mercedes is deep and very green, suggesting that it has maintained its natural state where fish thrives well, thus assuring there would more for the small fishermen to catch the next day.

The fish port facility boast of a deep docking area that caters to the needs of big fishing boats as well as a jetty that accommodates fishing vessel waiting to come near to the market area.

Likewise, in front of the massive fish trading hall, where the “bulungan” deals are being made daily is a spacious, paved parking lot for big fish-hauling trucks. Everyday, many of this type would park here, waiting to be uploaded with catch destined for Bicol and Metro Manila.

“It’s a big boost to our small fishermen because they can trade their catch here and get better price for their goods,” Vargas said of the fish port.

It is quite amazing that on the other side of the tall concrete wall that stands on the edge of the parking lot are a long row of big and small houses that seemed to elbow one another for a rare glimpse of the fish – big and small - being landed in big volumes at the port every morning.

Yes! I think this is 1what makes the town of Mercedes a great fish port!

“O, hala … bumulong na kayo…. magkano bah…?”

Fish truck waits to be uploaded with catch bound either for Navotas fish market or Bicol.

A typical day at the Mercedes fish port, where tons of catch are unloaded everyday. 

A group huddles during a “bulungan” session at the fish port.

The facility by the edge of the bay water.

A group of fishermen leave the boat dock after trading their catch. Some locally-owned fishing boats are seen anchored nearby. 

Fish buyers await their chance to haggle for a better price.

A portion of the fish port’s docking area.

The trading hall now almost empty. Tomorrow will be another busy day, when loads of catch are brought in from different fishing grounds, including that of Mambulao Bay.

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