Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Shoot fishing" (aka “air gun 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” in English). I have coined the terms “shoot fishers” and “shoot fishing” to describe these men and their kind of fishing. (Two Facebook groups, however, call this style of fishing as “air gun fishing” and call themselves as “air gunners.”) 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 (1) Legaspi Bridge, which spans the floodway near the Rainforest Park in Barangay Maybunga, (2) Jenny’s Bridge, which spans Ortigas Avenue between Rosario and Countryside, (3) Bambang-Malinao Bridge near C-5, and (4) 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 heavily-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

Father and son bonding time

That air rifle looks awesome.

“Wrong time for my rifle to break down ...”

Here's lunch!

“I'’ve caught fish bigger than this one!”

Someday, I will also be a shoot fisher.”

Shoot while the fishing is great!

“Maybe, I should come back another day ...”

Time to go home.

That's not tilapia; that’s janitor fish!

Turtle soup time!

Besides the fishing, camaraderie brings these men together.

It’s a busy day at the bridge.

Update as of July 28, 2018: The rainy season in the Philippines starts in June, with some 20 storms hitting the country every year. Coupled with the monsoon rains, the downpour can really be heavy. On my way to the Rainforest today, I saw these intrepid air gun fishers who are trying their luck to shoot some fish, despite the rain.

(The horizontal lines on the lower portion portion of the photo remind me of Andreas Gursky’s famous “Rhein II” photo.)

Update as of August 30, 2018: With the respite from the storms and heavy monsoon rains that have battered Metro Manila for more than a month, air gunners are out fishing today but mostly near the Manggahan flood control gates. With the fish staying away from Legazpi Bridge, some air gunners are using small bancas to get out on the floodway to do their fishing. As you can see on the lower right hand portion of the picture below, one guy even built a flimsy, wooden platform out on the floodway. (The tall buildings in the deep background are located in the Eastwood/C-5 area of Quezon City, which is one of the call center hubs in the Philippines.)

Update as of August 17, 2019: On my way to the Rainforest Park today, I came across these hectic scenes at Legaspi Bridge. These air gunners told me that fishing was much, much better yesterday.

“This is my lunch for today.”
“Never too old to be an air gunner ...”
Mean-looking guy
Future air gunner
“Proud to be an air gunner”
Hectic day at the bridge

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