JIABONG town in Samar Province, near the capital Catbalogan City, is a major producer of mussels. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF FACEBOOK
JIABONG, Samar — This once-vibrant fifth-class municipality is unusually silent these days, the long line of stalls selling tahong (mussels) and oysters along the national highway gone since the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) announced that Maqueda Bay is contaminated with red tide algal blooms.
With residents already grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, their lives became more difficult, Rey Nablo, a 43-year-old fisherman, said.
“There is no construction where we can work and there is not much business activity in Catbalogan either. We will badly need help from the government,” he said.
The BFAR Provincial Fisheries Office in Catbalogan City issued the advisory on Thursday, warning that seawater samples collected along Maqueda Bay came out positive for pyrodinium bahamense, a toxic microorganism that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.
“We are issuing this warning as a precautionary advice to the public to refrain from gathering, selling, and eating all types of shellfishes and Acetes sp. locally known as alamang from Maqueda Bay in Samar to avoid possible shellfish poisoning,” Vicenta Projimo, provincial fishery officer, stated in the advisory.
BFAR and the local government are closely monitoring the bays of Samar to safeguard public health and to protect the shellfish industry, the advisory added.
Maqueda Bay covers the town of Jiabong, Motiong, Paranas, San Sebastian, Calbiga, Pinabacdao and Hinabangan.
Jiabong is known as the mussels capital of the Eastern Visayas Region.
Sans red tide, at least 200 sacks of the iodine-rich green mussels are harvested daily and bought by traders at P1,500 per sack, which are then transported to Metro Manila, Cebu City, Davao City and the Bicol Region.
The stretch of Maharlika Highway in the town proper is usually dotted with a queue of vendors selling their fresh catch to motorists at P20 per bag.
The local government unit has helped develop mussels into ready to eat snacks, like chips and nuggets, that created more jobs for the locals.
The town also holds the Tahong Festival as the main attraction of its annual fiesta every first week of May.
Now that the town’s main source of daily income must stop because of red tide contamination, jobs generated including transportation are severely affectd.
For Nablo, red tide occurrence is a risk of the trade they are already used to as it happens almost every year. But what scares them is the uncertainty it brings at this time of the pandemic.
“We don’t know until when this red tide will last. Sometimes it lasts for three months or even more. What we usually do when there is red tide is we work in construction projects either in Tacloban or in Catbalogan,” he said. “We just hope and pray that this will soon pass.”
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