ALFREDO MARAÑON is the champion of marine conservation and rehabilitation. He is shown here enjoying sushi with friends during a Taiwan trip.

THE SMALL fishermen of Sagay, Negros Occidental, unlike many of their counterparts in other coastal areas in the country, are happy and contented. They have a thriving fishing ground, thanks to the conservation efforts of municipal officials. In fact in the three-island Brgy. of Molocaboc, the fisherfolks are not only catching fish in the ocean, they are engaged in sea ranching, of which Rep. Alfredo T. Marañon is very proud.

Sea ranching is a very inexpensive way of catching fish. It does not involve a big investment, and the good thing about it is that it does not destroy the fishing ground. It is a sustainable form of fishing.

Sea ranching is, of course, possible because of the marine rehabilitation and conservation efforts initiated in the area since 1980 when Congressman Marañon was still the mayor of Sagay. As a result, the reefs and corals are in good condition and sea grasses abound.

In sea ranching the fisherfolks build mounds in the shallower portion of he coastal areas. These mounds consist of rocks and stones which are piled loosely so that pockets of spaces between them serve as hiding places of the fish.

The mounds are the favorite hiding places of lapu-lapu, rabbit fish and many other kinds of fish, including crabs. Every two months or so, the fish hiding in the mound is harvested. This is done during low tide. By removing the rocks, the fish are driven to the net pocket and are caught alive.

Usually, one mound could yield 15 kilos of lapu-lapu and other species. The fisherfolks return to the sea the small ones so that they will grow bigger for future harvest.

The marine rehabilitation and conservation efforts started at the Carbin reef off the town of Sagay in 1980. Like many other fishing grounds Carbin reef was in a sorry state. Dynamite fishers devastated 80 percent of the corals in the reef.

Then Mayor Marañon sought the technical assistance of Dr. Angel Alcala, a marine biologist who later became president of Silliman University. He is today the head of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

Dr. Alcala, who later earned the Magsysay Award largely for his efforts in marine conservation and rehabilitation, helped then Mayor Marañon in the technical aspects of the project. Ultimately the Carbin reef served as a marine laboratory for aqua-marine students and researchers of Silliman University.

What was done to rehabilitate the reef? The area was left alone. The area was off limits to fishermen. They could drop anchor but they couldn’t fish.

Then Mayor Marañon had to show political will. He explained to the fisherfolks the need for marine conservation. He said that it was for their own benefit.

One time he had to send the known blast fishers to attend lectures on fish conservation in Silliman. When they returned, they were the most avid advocates of conservation, the mayor said.

While the conservation efforts of the mayor started with just 200 hectares in the Carbin reef, it has now expanded to cover 30,000 hectares. In June 1995, President Fidel V. Ramos declared the entire 30,000 hectares as a Protected Seascape, a marine reserve.

All was not well, however, when the OIC who took over the town after EDSA revolution vandalized the marine reserve. Dr. Alcala was reported to have shed tears when he discovered that the giant clams he had stocked in the area have been cannibalized.

The rehabilitation program, however, resumed when Marañon was elected mayor of Sagay once more. His concern for the marine reserve continues to this day. One of his first acts when he became congressman in 1995 was to allocate P400,000 from his Countrywide Development Fund for the construction of a concrete watchtower in Carbin reef. Another watchtower was also constructed in another area.

He has also allocated P500,000 to rehabilitate the pump boats for patrolling the marine reserve.

So that the fisherfolks will understand the importance of marine conservation, Sagay had to hire community organizers to inform the people of the fragility of the protected areas. The organizers also conducted lectures to make the people aware of their responsibilities as citizens of their barangays.

Of course the officials had to look for alternative sources of income in lieu of blast fishing. Marañon had also set aside some funds from his CDF as seed capital for the shellcraft projects. The people were also taught to construct fish traps and other means of sustainable fishing such as the Arong or the smaller version of Payaw.

The fisherfolks were also encouraged to plant mangrove species in the coastal areas. Today, in Sitio Napulo, Brgy. Vito, there are dense bakawan mangroves established by coastal residents adjacent to their houses. Also in the island barangay of Molocaboc, there are wide areas of mangrove plantations that are individually owned.

The planters will harvest the wood selectively for their own benefit. There are also wide areas of sea grass beds where fish, crabs, shellfish and other marine life abound.

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