MANILA, Philippines - After the "ugly" janitor fish, another equally invasive predator - knife fish - has come to invade the already threatened Laguna Lake, the country's biggest at 94,900 hectares.
Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM), and Anakpawis partylist-Laguna Lake chapter yesterday staged a 10-boat fluvial protest to demand quick and effective action from the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) to stop the spread of the scourge.
These groups said that LLDA General Manager Neric Acosta should move fast since fish harvest in the lake is being reduced fast, with fisherfolk in the open area reporting that commercial fish species now comprise only 30 percent of their catch.
The knife fish multiplies better than the janitor fish, a type of African catfish that was introduced into the country by hobbyists who let their fish loose, swimming their way from ponds to creeks and the rivers before lodging in Laguna de Bay.
"Something fishy is going on. It seems to us interest group is behind the proliferation of knife fish in Laguna Lake. The cruel intention is clear-get rid of all fish species in the lake and compel fishermen and other aquaculture producers to leave their livelihood," claimed Pamalakaya chairperson and Anakpawis vice-chairman Fernando Hicap.
The Pamalakaya official said the fry of knife fish is very small, enabling them to penetrate fish cages and fishpens, grow inside these fish farms and feast on big head carp, tilapia and bangus.
Hicap blamed hobbyists anew for the menace, claiming these hobbyists, who are generally ignorant of the impact of their fish on the environment, released them into waterways when the fish got too big for aquariums.
He noted that fisherfolk have also confirmed that schools of knife fish are now nibbling away at traditional fish species outside the cages and pens.
"Acosta should mobilize all state resources to investigate the proliferation of knife fish and stop this new breed of monster from destroying the livelihood of both fish capture and fish culture producers," Hicap said.
SLLM convenor Salvador France said knife fish has become a regular catch among fishermen over the last six months.
He said that for every 10 kilos of fish, 7 kilos are knife fish.
"The horrible-looking knife fish has low value in the market. Although there are buyers, they buy this fish for P5 to P15 per kilo. Not many people are keen to eat this fish because it is carnivorous, exotic and not part of the regular fish staple. The buyers use knife fish for fish ball, that is why it is also very cheap," France added.
SLLM noted 70 percent to 90 percent of fry inside the pens and cages are eaten by the predator.
The group said one of the fishpen operators told them that he bought 45,000 pieces of bangus fry that were supposed to deliver 90,000 kilos upon harvest season.
He was completely shattered when harvest came as he only secured 3,250 small bangus.
Meanwhile, knife fish is also threatening the livelihood of small and medium fishing enterpreneurs in Binangonan, Rizal.
Binangonan Councilor Felix " Boogie" Apostadero said the knife fish can be compared to the Arwana fish that grows up to 10 kilos and more.
Apostadero said that last week, most fishpen owners were dismayed because instead of big fish, tons of knife fish were instead caught in the net.
" If the problem of knife fish cannot be solved at once many people will lose their means of livelihood here and there is a possibility that more people will be hungry," said Apostadero.
Little fish owners also experienced difficulty in catching tilapia, ayungin, biya, kanduli even bangus which is the main source of livelihood among residents living near the shores of Laguna Lake, particularly near Binangonan.
Mayor Cecilio "Boyet" Ynarez said he believes that the proliferation of knife fish is to be blamed for the inability of fishermen to catch fish in the lake. (With a report from Madelynne Dominguez)