A ludong speaks PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 03 October 2011 14:16

Call me ludong (my scientific name is Cestraeus plicatilis) and I’m the most expensive fish in the Philippines today. You can also call me the President’s fish because of my value and you may think I am proud?... Well, I am not.

I’m angry because you have overfished me and made me rare, thus selling me for more than P3,000 per kilo of me. Why, the media in the mid 1980s even compared me to politicians who visit their constituents only once a year like my spawning habit at the mouth of the Cagayan River. Shame on them! That’s like comparing corrupt officials to crocodiles. It’s so unfair.

My kind became a gift to the rich and powerful and even became the star of a specialty restaurant in Manila in the early 1990s. Filipino-Chinese businessmen, then and now, go gaga over my taste and aroma. That’s fine.

But together with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, we are now raising the white flag for possible extinction unless you do something to save and protect me. Did I baffle you? Yes, for the last 50 years or so. This is because I’m from the wilds. As early as the 1930s, marine biologists and researchers find it very difficult to identify or classify me until that Australian University Professor successfully named me as a specie of a lobed river mullet.

Then, we lived in peaceful existence, only coming out from our natural habitat during the flood months each year to spawn. But the travel upstream and back has always been dangerous and treacherous but we have to follow nature. That’s how we were created. We’re part of your supposedly balanced ecology.

However, fishers from Isabela and Cagayan provinces have transformed themselves into river vultures and never allowed us to successfully propagate our specie. Only a few of us succeeded in returning to our habitat elsewhere. For now, we don’t even know our survival rate during spawning periods.

Remember Mrs. Alice Sebastian, the municipal agriculturist of Aparri? She conducted a study on us and tried to hatch our eggs in captivity but failed. Again, it’s because we came from the wilds. You can take us out from our habitat but you can never take the habitat out from us. Meaning, we can’t possibly survive in a laboratory unless you can perfectly capture our natural environment inside your air-conditioned research stations.

In recent memory, the first Oplan Sagip Ludong was launched by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources based at Pangasinan. Under their stupid program (pardon the word, the ludong is really angry -Ed), we, gravid ludong (spawners) were caught along the Cagayan River and were brought to Dagupan to hatch our eggs there, all the way from Aparri, a good nine to ten hours trip! You think we can survive such a long trip out there?

We were stressed and most of us died, except one, to the detriment of BFAR Region 2 Director Jovita Ayson. Our lone survivor, bless this ludong soul, finally gave up only after a few weeks inside the lab.

As I’ve told you earlier, you just don’t know who we really are and hardly could you even identify our exact habitat. You usually make a guess as to whether we’re just a school of crazy mullets, or a whole barangay of a delicacy and you even shake your balding heads as to how many of us still exist.

Let me remind you that in the early 1960s until the 1980s, we nourished Juan Dela Cruz. We were not yet a novelty item, then. Yet these days, at the onset of the new millennium with the climate change starting to take a toll on all of us, the same Juan Dela Cruz started to sell us to businessmen and politicians because the latter has dictated the market value on us.

Without batting a fish tale, that’s our problem now. Because of our economics, more and more fishermen wanted to hunt us down as if we’re fugitives. You can start taking our photos now for posterity sake so that in the confines of fish museums, you can show to your children’s children how a King”s Fish (that’s my other name by the way) really looks like.

But wait. There’s an exciting and overwhelming buzz now circulating within the confines of the wilds and is now the talk of the entire ludong community, including those of our friends and relatives along the Santa River in Abra.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Region 2 has finally launched another crack at conserving us thru the Oplan Sagip Ludong project based at the Regional Fisheries Training Center in Aparri, Cagayan under the helm of its center director and concurrently officer-in-charge assistant regional director Milagros Morales.
That would be a welcome development for us as from now on, we don’t have to travel from Aparri to Dagupan for BFAR research and conservation efforts on us as proximity can be a factor in our survival.

From where we are, we heard your agriculture secretary telling to all and sundry not to allow us go extinct because we are actually your national treasure just like the tamaraws of Mindoro and the Philippine eagle of Davao.

And you think we don’t keep track of such developments? We can’t be ludongs for nothing. With the project now in full swing, Director Ayson argued that Fisheries Administrative Order No. 31, series of 1952 which prohibits our catching is no longer attuned to the present time.

“To think that ludong is not even listed as a protected species under the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species (CITES),” Oplan Sagip Ludong Project Leader Dr. Evelyn Ame said. Did you hear that?

We ludongs now think FAO 31 should be revised so that the Ph80,000 fine against violators can be imposed That will discipline our fishers and other individuals out to totally erase us from the face of the earth, er, from the bottom of the river.

The Oplan Sagip Ludong Project, as the buzz goes, will include research and development, conservation and protection of my kind and information and education communication.

We remember Isabela and Cagayan provinces enacting ordinances to protect us but years after its enactment, we still have to hear of somebody charged with catching, selling, cooking, serving or possessing us.

Well, with the new Oplan Sagip Ludong, that would be water under the bridge now, so to speak.
Speaking of IEC, Director Purita Licas of the Philippine Information Agency, whose last taste of us borders between her childhood and professional life, likewise has thrown her support to the cause of the project.

My kind think the government is on the right track this time and will not border on lip service alone. This time, as Director Ayson said, we need results. We’ve been telling you that unregulated catching of us made our price exorbitant for a supposedly lowly lobed river mullet.

For Director Ayson and the rest of the gang, thank you. Its better late than never. Protect us and make us available on any table of Juan Dela Cruz.

By the way, it’s our spawning season once again and everybody is excited yet we dread those moments when we are once again serve at luxury restos elsewhere away from where we should be serve, the Cagayano table. — PIA/Benjie S. de Yro