Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Shoot fishing" in the Philippines (photo essay)


Around the world, people catch fish using nets, fishing rods, or sometimes, spears. But some men in Pasig City in Metro Manila, Philippines catch fish in a way that’s probably unique in the world. These men use air rifles fitted with a small harpoon that’s tied to nylon string wound around a plastic tube. When the trigger is pulled, the harpoon hurtles toward the targeted fish; the harpoon is then reeled in. Sometimes the fishing is great; sometimes, it’s lean.

These men call themselves “mamamaril” (translated as “shooters” or “gunmen” in English). I have coined the terms “shoot fishers” and “shoot fishing” to describe these men and their kind of fishing. Most of them bought their modified air rifles from a shop in Barangay Bambang with the price ranging from 4 to 6 thousand pesos.

They gather in several places like Legaspi Bridge, which spans the floodway near the Rainforest Park in Barangay Maybunga, or in Barangay Manggahan near the floodway’s control gates. The floodway was constructed more than 25 years ago to release rising water from the Marikina River into the Laguna de Bay.

I’ve heard two explanations as to why “tilapia” and other kinds of fish can be found in the floodway:

Explanation1: Every time there’s a storm or a heavy downpour over Laguna de Bay, fish escape from the fishpens there and are driven by the current into the floodway. The best time for shoot fishing is 2 to 3 days after the storm or downpour; that’s when the fish start surfacing (“lutang”).

Explanation 2: The “tilapia” and other fish have already escaped from their fishpens in Laguna de Bay and are feeding and growing in the lake.

When the Marikina River rises due to heavy rains, the floodway control gates in Brgy. Manggahan are opened, and the water rushes to the Laguna de Bay. The fish sense this oncoming current and start swimming against the current and into the floodway. When the gates are open for several days, the fish can reach as far as the Mandaluyong and Manila parts of the Pasig River.

When the control gates are eventually closed, the fish are trapped in the floodway. They start surfacing (“lutang”) due to lack of oxygen.

(I used a Sony Cybershot 5.1 megapixel camera and a NEO M71 tablet to shoot these pictures. I then used Fireworks to crop and sharpen the pictures.)

Most shoot fishers have just one or two harpoons, but this guy is well-armed.
The harpoon is inserted deep into the barrel with a long, slim rod. Afterwards, the rod is placed inside the shoot fisher’s shirt at the back for ready access.
This guy came prepared for a lot of fishing with two air tanks.
Reeling in the catch
Sometimes the catch is lean.

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