Meet Mang Pete: Custodian of corals, guardian of giant clamsCatch of the Week
“I have a wife and five kids. If something unfortunate happens to me while dynamite fishing, what would happen to them?”
His explanation was succinct. His decision was swift. This was the reason why Agapito “Mang Pete” Perno gave up a life of illegal fishing for a job that pays him only a third of what he used to get.
“Admittedly, I earned more when I was in the illegal fishing trade, but I had no peace of mind,” said Mang Pete, who used to be a bosero or “spotter” for dynamite-wielding fishers off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines. He now patrols the marine protected areas (MPA) of Etayo, Santelmo, and Pico de Loro in Hamilo Coast, Nasugbu, protecting corals and marine life, and fending off illegal fishers—his former friends, his former workmates.
The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle ecoregion, and Mang Pete is one of its champions.
“Nobody approached me and asked me to do this. I gave up earning a living as an illegal fisher on my own volition. There was much competition and many enemies. Here, I live a quiet life doing this job,” said Mang Pete, the waves rocking him sideways on the banca, taking off his cap and wiping sweat congregating at his eyebrows like a school of fish. This motion revealed hair garnished with gray, above the forehead and complexion of a man whose life was spent on boats under the unforgiving sun.
“I tend to the fishes, tend to the clams, and watch over all the coves here that may be encroached by illegal fishers. I stay on lookout for them—all of them,” Mang Pete shared.
Mang Pete, now 56 years old, was born in Barangay Papaya in Nasugbu, and today his office is the open sea just a few heartbeats from his birthplace which his wife and five children also call home. Despite the meager pay, he said, he is able to provide for his family’s needs and his children’s education.
He does not miss the high pay and dangerous working conditions of his previous job.
“When I left the illegal fishing trade, I started working here at Pico de Loro,” he said, referring to the first hotel and resort development of the Sy family’s SM Land in Hamilo Coast.
In 2007, Hamilo Coast partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature, fusing low-impact property development with coastal resource management and ecological sustainability. The partnership resulted in the establishment of the three MPAs, activation of bantay dagat or sea patrol units to protect the area from poachers and illegal fishing, livelihood opportunities and environmental education for nearby communities, identification and safe release of pawikan or sea turtle hatchlings on cove shores, and the cultivation of taklobos or giant clams off the coastlines.
“I tend to the fishes, tend to the clams, and watch over all the coves here that may be encroached by illegal fishers. I stay on lookout for them—all of them,” Mang Pete shared. “I admonish them, all those whom I think are in the practice of illegal fishing, even if they get mad at me.”
Despite the constant and stern admonishment, Mang Pete said he has not been in any altercation with former workmates with whom he crosses paths in the waters of Hamilo Coast.
“I have not been in any trouble with them,” he said. “It is not in my nature to fight with other people. Even if they get mad at me when I admonish them, I don’t fight back. For me, it’s just work. I tell them that if they were in my shoes, they would do the same. So sometimes they understand.”
Illegal fishers do not frequent the area anymore, according to Mang Pete.
“Most of them changed their ways, too, but they still work at sea using fish nets,” he said. “Some of their practices may still be illegal but at least they do not use dynamite anymore. They use fish nets and that is still illegal and they harm corals as they go to shallow waters. It is semi-Muro Ami (reef hunting, the illegal fishing practice of pounding on corals to scare fish toward nets).”
As MPAs, only hook-and-line fishing is allowed in Pico de Loro and Etayo which are classified as marine reserves, while absolutely no fishing is allowed in Santelmo which is classified as a marine sanctuary. Since the areas were protected, blacktip reef sharks have come back to Santelmo, according to Paolo Pagaduan, WWF-Philippines’ project manager for Hamilo Coast.
With peace of mind, a regular paying job, and his family waiting for him at the shore at the end of each day, what more can Mang Pete ask for?
“Maybe we can have some people in government help patrol the seas so that they can protect the seas surrounding this sanctuary,” he said. “Maybe from here to Etayo, this area could be protected because the beautiful corals are here. The other corals are already destroyed.”
NOTE: Direct quotes from Mang Pete were translated from Filipino. View the actual interview with translations in this video.
Story and photos by CTKNetwork.org