In September 2012, I took a French visitor friend spearfishing in nearby Honda Bay.
With us were our guides, Amemeh and Danny. Both hail from the Muslim village in Puerto Princesa. Amemeh (A-me-meh) is a member of the Badjao tribe while Danny is a Tausug. This is worth mentioning because the Badjao are legendary for their free diving skills, i.e., diving on a single breath of air. I dove with Amemeh more than a handful of times and while I can barely make it past a depth of 10 meters (33 feet), I have watched Amemeh descend to 20, possibly even to 25, meters, and hunt down there.
Amemeh, 25-years old, and a Badjao originally from Zamboanga.
Danny, 21-years old, is a Tausug who used to spearfish until a diving accident.
Honda Bay’s a popular tourist destination. Two reasons: (1) its proximity to the main city–Puerto Princesa and (2) its natural beauty.
At least 12 islands and more coral reefs dot this beautiful bay. Most visitors take the overland route from Puerto Princesa to Honda Bay. It will take 30 4o 45 minutes depending upon traffic.
This wide and relatively shallow bay has been overfished (which is typical of most waters of the Philippines). There are a few isolated populations of larger fish (such as groupers and jacks) but they are found at depths of 20 to 25 meters. Numerous coral reefs dot Honda Bay and around those areas, depths range from 5 to 10 meters.
We hunted in the encircled area adjacent to Pandan Island. Depths ranged from 5 to 20 meters.
Not all of our catch but about half of it. The elongated one is a trumpet fish. All are edible and were eaten.
Eating what we caught
Adrian with his surprise catch — a puffer fish! When threatened, or in this case, speared, it ingests water so it swells to a ridiculous size. Compare its size in this photo to the ones below.
Right behind the mouth! You can see the fish is quite large already. Adrian speared it at a depth of less than 10 meters.
The massive size of the puffer fish can be appreciated after Amemeh estimated its original length to be 1/5 of the fish you see above. In other words, after it was speared, the fish ingested enough water to make it swell five times its regular size.
Adrian struggling to lift his puffer fish. Over 120 species are known to exist worldwide.
Énorme prise d’Adrian!
Amemeh claimed that he knew how to prepare the Puffer Fish. Here he is doing just that.
[National Geographic: Almost all pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a substance that makes them foul tasting and often lethal to fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.]
Amemeh cut and stripped off several fingers worth of white flesh including certain yellowish and blackish organs. Those parts, he said, aren’t eaten. Also, those strings of flesh wrapped around his fingers are toxic, he said. I just didn’t know how familiar he was with the fish’s anatomy. There’s no doubt that he’s a skilled spear fisherman but did his skills also extend to puffer fish? I wasn’t certain and I definitely wasn’t going to put my life in his hands. At any rate, Adrian and I declined.
[National Geographic: Amazingly, the meat of some pufferfish is considered a delicacy. Called fugu in Japan, it is extremely expensive and only prepared by trained, licensed chefs who know that one bad cut means almost certain death for a customer. In fact, many such deaths occur annually.]
Since we were still hungry, we ate this giant clam for lunch. We ate it raw although we had vinegar (in the bottle) for seasoning.
Visible in the foreground is the white adductor muscle that pulls the two shells shut.
Clam preparation: The flesh is detached from the shell.
Slicing clam meat into bite-sized chunks.
Chopped-up clam with pepper and ginger. Protein-rich and packed with micronutrients from the sea.
Chasseur de la Mer!
Adrian Lebreton, hourra!
Danny and Alex Cooper showing more catch. During the five hours we were spearfishing, we experienced sunny weather, gentle rain, and a sudden squall. The squall created strong waves that caused me to lose my new diving knife. Ouch!