In Central Luzon and vicinity, among the biggest sources of freshwater fish, especially tilapia and bangus (milkfish), are the province of Pangasinan, Taal Lake and Laguna de Bay. Tilapia farming, in particular, is such big business (low risk and low capital but high returns) that environmentalists are deeply concerned about how the unchecked growth of fish farms are gradually killing lakes. This issue is particularly true in Taal Lake.
Now, I am no environmentalist. But fish farmed in dead (or dying) lakes and sold to us consumers concern me. If you’re not familiar with the term “fish kill”, you can search the web for information. In a nutshell, when the oxygen level in a lake dips to levels that can no longer sustain aquatic life, the fish in the fish farms in that lake will die. And this translates to loss of profits to the fish farm owners. So, to mitigate loss, the “double dead” fish still manage to find their way into the markets.
The dip in oxygen supply is caused by many things. One is that there are too many fish competing for oxygen supply (as is the case when there are far too many fish pens than a lake can naturally sustain). Another is pollution. Fish in fish farms are fed and the excess feed just stay in the water.
Third, also pollution-related, is the dumping of human and commercial waste in the water — a practice that commercial establishments and households are equally guilty of. Laguna de Bay is now dying because of such practices.
Various studies over the years have ascertained that much of the pollution comes from the homes along the rivers and streams and significant contributors to the poisonous soup that flows to the lake are the backyard piggeries.
Meanwhile, fish farming in Laguna Lake goes on, not just for the consumption of the fish farmers but for their livelihood. In short, what’s harvested from Laguna Lake are sold to consumers like you and me.
Just last May:
The President freed about 200,000 fingerlings of tilapia and big head carp in Laguna Lake as additional livelihood to fishermen who depend on the lake for their income…
The fingerlings benefitted some 1,400 fish cage operators who were affected by typhoon Ondoy.
So, when you buy freshwater fish in the market, do you bother asking where they came from? Of course, it’s possible that the vendors wouldn’t really know. The fish reach the markets via various middlemen who transport them from the sources. It is also possible that the vendors won’t tell you if the fish came from a polluted lake like Taal or Laguna de May.
How do we protect ourselves? Short of giving up tilapia and bangus, and I don’t think we can, I seriously have no answer to that.