The people of the “Fish Bowl”

Malampaya Sound, where I’ll be working for the next 6 months, has been called the “fish bowl” of the Philippines.  It’s a rich fishing ground, and contributes significantly to the marine exports of the province of Palawan.  This reputation, plus Palawan’s reputation as “the last frontier”, has attracted in-migration of people from around the country.  As a result, Malampaya Sound’s human population has increased significantly, and the increase continues.

One thing that fascinates me about this site is the variety of background and histories that the people here represent.  Since I’m interested in how migration might influence resource use and management, I ask my interview respondents about their points of origin, residence time in Malampaya Sound, and reasons for moving.

People have moved here to avoid the drug trade and violence in their home provinces in past decades.  Some ran away from abusive parents, or moved here to join relatives.  Some visited here and found their spouses  (one fisher said, “I came to Malampaya Sound, and here I found my heart,” as he looked at his wife).  Some came to work for logging companies, and then switched to fishing when restrictions on logging became much more strict.  Some just were looking for greener pastures. I’ve also come across stories of people leaving Malampaya Sound.  Mainly, these are the children of the more well-off fishers (who are often also fish buyers and sellers) who were able to go to college.

There are also indigenous people here, including the Tagbanwa.  I’ve conducted some interviews with them, with romantic ideas of learning about ancient customs of fishing and marine resource management.  I was surprised to learn that they had actually stopped fishing in Malampaya Sound by the early 20th century.  When immigrants started showing up, bringing fishing techniques from their home provinces, the Tagbanwa paid attention and emulated them.

This type of observation and copying occurs often in Malampaya Sound, with resident fishers adopting new fishing techniques that are brought in by new immigrants if they seem to be productive.  It’s a very dynamic fishing ground.  This could be due not only to the constant influx of new ideas, but also to a change in key target species as previously exploited species become overfished.

I’m curious if these shifts in human community composition and fishing methods have ramifications for community-based management efforts.  I’ll be conducting more in-depth interviews this field season to get greater detail about migration in and out of the Sound…I think it’ll be fascinating, and also (hopefully) will provide insight into how to proceed with management.  One can dream, right?