Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom


Erle Frayne Argonza

Tuna sandwich, tuna adobo, grilled tuna, and more tuna. We’re surely a happy people here in the islands, based on Asian researches showing that in fact we’re the happiest people. I’d say tuna is among those fauna that satiates our appetites and make us happily fulfilled.

In case you fellows would want to know what gears are used to catch tuna—that would not damage the environment nor the infantile tuna—let this be told. Muro ami and purse seiners are still in among some commercial fishers here, but these are stoned aged gears. The purse seiners scrape the coral reefs below sometimes, thus damaging the spawning areas of fishes. Muro ami exploits children who are used with the gear, and threaten their very lives.

In the early 1980s, as a junior executive then with the Ministry of Human Settlements, I had the opportunity to eco-scan the offshore areas of Cagayan, with fisheries experts and investors tugged along. Among the enthused investors were the executives connected with Dr. Edward Litton who was at one time the richest man in RP (he owned Litton Mills, and was into food exports). I also had at some times interacted with the billionaire himself, in his Wac-Wac home in Mandaluyong City (Manila).

What caught my attention then was the opening salvo of new technologies to catch, store, pack and retail tuna without the damaging effects of the stone age gears. At that time, the Long Line Tuna equipment was freshly released, and our neighbor Taiwan was producing the gears in mass scales. It cost P1 M then to purchase a long line tuna which comes with the big boat, the long line, sashimi-grade storage, and packing. That is roughly P18 Million today.

If one would add at least four (4) months of working capital, the funding requirement for a Long Line Tuna Project would cost P1.5 Million in 1982, or roughly P27 Million today. Former executives of Dr. Litton, namely Atty. Pefianco and Efren de Castro, put up their own trading firm, and was the proponent of a start-up project funded under the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK. Their company though, the EFCI, had joint undertakings with the old boss, Dr. Edward.

The gear surely fascinated me. It didn’t use nets, but rather a long line that could stretch to 7 kilometers long. Using floaters, the long line would be situated just above water, with the hooks containing tuna feedlots just a few feet below the waters. Upon hauling a catch, the tuna is pre-processed right away, cleaned and pre-cut to large sizes, and stored as sashimi-grade products in the built-in refrigeration. The gear could go out to sea for days, at most for four (4) weeks assuming that provisions would be complete.

Another news that fascinated me then was that over 3 Million tons of tuna—that traverse the Pacific towards Taiwan and Japan—die every year due to old age. It means no one is catching them, so they simply die naturally. The point is, why not catch them en masse, catch even just a few thousands of tons? The byline worked, I was convinced of the production side to the project, and I had it be endorsed for approval in late 1982. Loan requested then was P1 Million, with the rest declared as equity.

The fish boat of the long line tuna gear was at that time already the automatic steering type. It was programmable in such a way that, all by itself, it can sense blockages along the way (eg. rock formations, small islets, vessels) and avoid them by re-routing, before it traverses the same path programmed for it. Amazing gears!

Today we could just imagine how the gears for catching tuna and game fish, the real large ones, could have evolved. Great catchers can use the usual fish line to catch a bull as large as 300 kilograms, such as my sibling Emerald who is an expert on game fishing. In Mexico, the Tuna Cage is now in operation, where cages are used to trap baby tunas that are then raised in the same cages placed just below the sea, under the fish boat.

As a development official then, and even after that (as private person), I found it wonderful to go out with fisherfolks for the early morning catch. I can never forget the experiences in Cagayan, Quezon and Batanes in particular. Privately, in California, I’d go out with sibling, bringing along our family speed boat there that also dabbles out as fishing vessel. It was really fun, learning, and thrill altogether.  

[Writ 06 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]


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