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The Fishermen of Bauang


Philippine Travel

The beach has a festive air: guitar music, the sound of breaking waves, children playing in the sand, women chatting, and fish vendors washing baskets in the surf. Out in the Lingayen Gulf, silhouetted against the setting sun, the fishing boats return. As each boat noses up to the beach it draws a crowd of spectators eager to see the days catch - Spanish mackerel, dorado, yellowfin, and sometimes a marlin too big for one man to carry. The fisherman hauls the boat up on the sand, the crowd drifts away to the next boat, and the vendor takes the fish to the market.

Nearby Dado Galleta starts to close his shell shop, a flimsy wooden stall with green shutters. Dado was once a fisherman but quit 13 years ago to run his shop. When asked why he gave up fishing he says; "It's too dangerous. Too many friends never came home. I have a family now."

This is the beach north of Bauang, between the villages of Paringao and Pagdalagan in the Province of La Union, the Philippines. Here fishing has always been a part of life and little has changed over the years: petrol engines have replaced sails, tourism has grown into a major industry, but the fisherman is still the backbone of the community.

But fish are no longer plentiful and many coral reefs that previously supported abundant fish life have been destroyed, mostly by dynamite and cyanide. Dado points to a strip of green water a couple of hundred metres off the beach. "A few years ago that reef was teeming with fish," he says, "Now it's dead - no fish, not even a star fish, just a few jelly fish."

Many fishermen have given up and found jobs ashore. Dado's brother, John, now works as a boat boy at the Manila Yacht Club. Others, like his brother-in-law Leo Avenes, act as tour guides. "Fishing is hard work," Leo says. "Catching tourists is much easier than catching fish." But the transition from fisherman to boatman is not automatic - bureaucracy's tentacles have found their way to the beach.
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