BULI-BULI. Photo courtesy of BFAR-Cagayan Valley

PART 1: An in-depth report on buli-buli operations in Cagayan

Benjamin De Yro


The modified Danish Seine boats of Buguey finally sailed their last fishing expedition along the waters off Gonzaga, Cagayan this year after the Supreme Court banned its use two years ago.

For the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in region 2 and elsewhere, it has been a very long legal battle for all stakeholders including both big and small operators as they continuously engage the agency in a tiresome cat and mouse game along municipal waters.

While the Danish Seine is called ‘hulbut-hulbot’, ‘palisot’, ‘ pasangko’, ‘ bira-bira’ and ‘hulahoop’ in most Visayan areas, its modified form has been called ‘buli-buli’ in Cagayan.

Its heydays started in Cagayan, when BFAR was a mere Division of the Department of Agriculture in 1989. For then 36 years old Luis Palattao (not his real name),operator of buli-buli in Barangay Minanga, Buguey, buli-buli has given him the opportunity to provide a comfortable life for his family while opening direct employment opportunities to his marginalized neighbors and friends who depended much on the wealth of the seas.

A few months ago, he was furious. He asked why the government introduced it in the first place when it knew its dangers to the environment. Danish Seine has been described as a poor man’s trawl operated with a set of warps composed of hauling lines and drag lines.

Seining is a method that employs a seine or a dragnet. A seine is a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge buoyed by boats.

It consists of a conical shaped net with a pair of wings, the end of which are connected to two ropes with plastic strips or any similar materials to serve as scaring or herding devise with hauling ropes passing through a metallic ring permanently attached to a weight when hauled into a fishing boat.

LGU and BFAR interventions

Art Pagador Sr., retired Sangguniang Bayan secretary said Buguey started only with three boats until the numbers increased through the next few years and the design of the seiners have improved. The town did its job of enacting several ordinances since the start of operation including the designation of a passageway from Barangay Minanga up to a ten kilometer distance into the open seas.

Then a series of agreements between the local government unit and BFAR were inked. While the town is an agricultural community with a good production of rice, corn, vegetables and livestock, its fisheries production eclipsed that of agriculture. It has one of the largest coastlines among Luzon towns.

From the fisheries farms come fattened crabs, siganids, oysters, seaweeds, shrimps, sea and freshwater seashells. Such farms have contributed to the production aside from other resources gathered in the wild. With buli-bulioperations, the tonnage of catch from the high seas and, suspiciously, from the municipal waters have further enriched the image of the municipality as a dependable town when it comes to fishery productions. It nailed Buguey as a center of fishery products.

Yet despite local ordinances and other measures, buli-buli operations continued even after the enactment of RA 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. The law was hailed by fisheries stakeholders. They said it is comprehensive enough that they see a brighter future for the sectors, this despite the fact that in the next few years after it became a law, progressive groups started to point to the government the flaws of the law.

Fisheries resources were safeguarded and for the buli-buli operators, they face sanctions from Section 92 of RA 8550 which stated that “it will be unlawful to fish with gear method that destroys coral reefs, sea grass beds and other fishery marine life habitats.”

Issue on municipal waters

Section 90 earlier prohibits fishing on municipal waters using active gears. In 2000, Mayor Lloyd Antiporda, the incumbent Mayor, after some years of political hiatus, was accompanied by this writer and other law enforcers in a speedboat to determine the 15 kilometer distance from the shoreline. Under the law, buli-buli should only be operated past the 15 kilometer distance which delineates the municipal from commercial fishing areas.

For the last decade or so, there have been a lot of disputes and complaints between and among the operators, law enforcement and the local government unit. While the operators claimed they don’t encroach on municipal waters, the law enforcers, with some information from marginalized fisherfolk in the area, believed otherwise.

Marginalized fishermen in the area have complained to the local government unit that buli-buli’s operation even in municipal waters have greatly affected their daily catch.

“We tried to explain to them the provisions of the RA 8550. It is our mandate to implement it,” then BFAR Director Jovita Ayson told this writer in 2002. Not only were the operators of Buguey affected by the law. The same struggle among operators, LGUs and law enforcers were likewise the same for Aparri, and Gonzaga.

There were even reported instances where operators in Aparri would be apprehended in Buguey or Gonzaga for encroaching on municipal waters or vice-versa- Gonzaga operators were liewise caught fishing along the municipal waters of Buguey or Aparri.

So intense were the situations that a fishery consultant for Buguey who was elected as Sangguniang Bayan member in later years, stayed for days in a local hospital after he suffered a stroke.

Most Affected Sector

Under such situation, it was the workers who suffered the most.

“It’s our only source of income to feel our family and send the children to school. Any stoppage on its operation, even for only a day means hunger to us,” Andy Cuaresma (not his real name) said.

“We did gave the operators a good fight,” Ayson recalls. To appease the workers and to somehow make them realize that there’s life after buli-buli, BFAR tried to introduce new packages of technologies on fisheries production through trainings and seminars.

But the technologies take some weeks or even months before the fishermen benefit from them.

“Somehow, we cannot blame them. Buli-buli provides immediate cash on a daily basis,” Antiporda said.

The operators and their workers returned to the fishing method.

Sometime in 2009, the province was rocked by a controversy- the black sand mining along the coastal municipalities and even one historical town. The controversy, for all its worth, would lead to the banning of the buli-buli operations in the country.

Just what’s in store for buli-buli stakeholders in Buguey? TNF