SAN FABIAN– One cannot ignore the scent in the air- the peculiar smell of the sea as one passes through the highway traversing Alacan village in this coastal town. Did somebody bring fish or other sea products inside the vehicle? No, the scent was wafting from the road side which is brown, almost black, with
seaweeds being dried by fishermen. The sea off this town, or some of its villages, has beds of stillluxuriant seaweeds which the residents harvest to earn some money. "The villagers have been gathering the seaweeds even when I was a boy," Cristobal Ibasan, 61, said as he flipped over the seaweeds he was drying. What's on the pavement is sargassum (Sargassummoticum), a kind of seaweeds generally brown or dark green and consists of a holdfast (root-like structure), a stipe (stem or stalk-like) and fronds.During daleg, or when the waves are big, large quantities of sargassum are carried to the shore where they
are easily gathered by the residents.On ordinary days however, the fishermen dive into the sea beds about a kilometer away from the shore to harvest these bounties of the sea.There are times when it was not possible to gather seaweeds like when the water is murky. There is also the danger of
getting hurt by corals or getting stung by jelly fish.

On a good day, Ibasan said he can gather up to 30 kilos of sargassum. He dries on the pavement where buyers can see. "It is difficult to gather the seaweeds and to dry them but we don't really earn much as the price is only P4 per kilo," he said. Buyers claim they use sargassumas ingredient for feeds or as fertilizer. But Dr. GabinoTrono, professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines Marine Institute and an expert on seaweeds, said the fisherfolk are being
deceived by the buyers. "Sargassum is used as raw material for many high-priced products like cosmetics, textile manufacturing and medicine. The farmers are losing and we and the environment are paying the high price because the seaweeds are getting depleted because of overharvesting. Nilolokotayo (we are being gypped)," Trono said.

Trono has been tapped by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Ilocos regional office for training of fishermen on seaweeds farming in Bolinao where seaweeds farm would be helped to establish a farm by the agency. He said he had been approached by a Chinese businessman who was ordering 1,000 tons of sargassum every month. "Where will we get that volume of seaweeds without depleting our resources?" he said. The scientist also rued the way the fishermen harvest the sargassum – uprooting them which could lead in the seaweeds' depletion. Ibasan admitted that the residents "uproot" the sargassum but the volume of seaweeds was the same since he was a young boy. "They have seeds which fall into the seabed and germinate. "But Trono said it takes a year before the seeds ("embryo") grow into mature plant, calling the process "fresh annual growth." If they just cut, or prune the (fronds), these will grow back soon and the seaweeds would not be depleted in the long run, he explained. It was also observed that the sargassum being dried still have the seeds in them, so nothing is left to germinate in the seabed. "There is no management yet of the seaweeds in the country," saidTrono, who has a doctoral degree in Botany and has extensively studied seaweeds flora of central Pacific. "There is a need to stop (the harvest) and develop harvest management of seaweeds." He said he has complained to BFAR Director Asis Perez about "everybody crazily harvesting sargassum."I think there is a need to stop harvesting and study how to conserve at the same time utilize this precious sea resource. He (Perez) is issuing a memo about stopping of the sargassum harvest in the entire country," he said. The Alacan residents have actually lost a kind of edible seaweeds locally known as ararosep (Chlorophyta). "Many fishermen used compressor to harvest ararosep until the last of the seaweed was gone. Sayang, pang-ulamsana (It is such a waste as it could be a viand)," Ibasan said. Perhaps learning a lesson, they do not overharvest "culot (Laurenciapapillosa)" which Ibasan said tastes good when cooked with tamarind. "Talbos lang. Tinitipidnamin (We cut the tips. We don't waste it),"Ibasan said. But not the other seaweed species, collectively called "tamsaw"by the locals and which they gather some five kilometers away from the shore using gill nets. Shown a chart of seaweeds, they identified these as Eucheumaspinosum, Gelidiellaacerosa, Kappaphicusalvarezii and Kappaphycus stratum.

"They are made into jelly ace. They are more expensive at P10 per kilo, but we have to use motorboat to go far into the sea where they thrive," Ibasan said.The species are sources of gel or carrageenan, Trono said. It is the theEucheumaspinosum which the BFAR is introducing to Bolinao waters. "The seaweeds, which are part of coral reefs, play a major role in marine ecosystem. They are the primary producers of food for fish and they provide habitat for some coastal animals," he said. Trono said it was difficult to culture seaweeds and "we are dependent on natural growth."
"If the kind of harvesting done now is not controlled, we will lose this important marine resource," he said. (YZS)



 © 2015 Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources - Regional Fiheries Office I. All Rights Reserved I Site Credit