EXPLAINER: How dredging and surfacing of flatfish in Manila Bay may affect fisherfolk

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 25) – Dredging activities have caused the surfacing of flounder, or flatfish, in Manila Bay but further study needs to be done on how this may affect the livelihood of fisherfolk in the area, a marine biologist said.

“With the ongoing dredging activities in Manila Bay, sand is being extracted as filling material for reclamation projects, which disturbs the habitats of flatfishes and other demersal fish and benthic invertebrate species,” marine scientist Jerwin Baure told CNN Philippines.

“It may be possible that with the loss of bottom sediments, flatfishes would be driven away from their habitats,” said Baure, who is also a public information officer of scientists’ group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People.

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), there are at least 108 species of flatfish in the country. However, the size of its population is not well documented.

“Despite their diversity, these species have low abundance and contribute insignificantly to the country’s overall fisheries production,” BFAR told CNN Philippines.

Fisher's group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) earlier raised the alarm after fisherfolk in Cavite reported the sighting of flatfish, locally known as "tampal-puke" or "isdang dapa," in Manila Bay.

The struggle is real

Baure said fisherfolk will suffer if fish are driven away from their habitats.

“They (fisherfolk) only have a limited area where they are allowed to fish. If they are caught fishing in a different municipality, they could be punished for illegal fishing,” Baure said.

According to PAMALAKAYA, average fish catch in the area was reduced by 80% since dredging operations started two years ago.

“Small fishers have been fighting the dredging and reclamation projects in Manila Bay. The dredging activities resulted in drastic decline of fish catch and other ecological damages," PAMALAKAYA tweeted.

However, BFAR said the direct effects of dredging activities on fish behavior "have not been evaluated critically.”

“This phenomenon requires a specific scientific study to generate results that can serve as the basis for developing appropriate management strategies,” BFAR said.

Pamalakaya has recorded a total of 187 reclamation projects in the country, which covers more than 25,000 hectares of fishing waters.

Among those, at least 30 reclamation projects are located in the Manila Bay area.