The Tangkal post from last week sparked this conversation:
A film about the practice of muro-ami and of the same name won 13 awards in the 1999 Manila Metro Film Festival.
Muro Ami (Reef-Hunters) is a Filipino film that depicts one of the worst forms of child labor in the illegal fishing system. Fredo is the ruthless captain of 150 Muro Ami divers. The illegal fishing is done by pounding and crushing corals underwater to scare the fishes and drive them towards the nets. With a high quota to meet, Fredo forces the divers, who consist mostly of children, to accomplish at least eight dives a day to meet their goal before the millennium. Tired and harassed after the burdensome task being given to them, the children have to make do in subhuman conditions in the Muro Ami boat, The Aurora. They sleep in rat-infested bunks and are fed only twice a day. Life above the water in the boat is much worse than the suffering the children encounter beneath the sea. For every dive, a child’s life is perilously in danger.
Apparently the idea for the movie arose after the bodies of 100 children divers were discovered in Palawan, in 1986.
With respect to the practice itself, the United Nations’ FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization) stated:
The muroami fishing technique, employed on coral reefs in Southeast Asia, uses an encircling net together with pounding devices. These devices usually comprise large stones fitted on ropes that are pounded onto the coral reefs. They can also consist of large heavy blocks of cement that are suspended above the sea by a crane fitted to the vessel. The pounding devices are repeatedly and violently lowered into the area encircled by the net, literally smashing the coral in that area into small fragments in order to scare the fish out of their coral refuges. The “crushing” effect of the pounding process on the coral heads has been described as having long-lasting and practically totally destructive effects.
From Coconut Studio came this graphic description:
The MURO-AMI net is made up of an enormous bag and two wings that each stretches almost three-quarters of a kilometre. The bag net is secured to the seabed by about twenty young divers, youths that free dive to depths of up to eighty feet to attach the net to the seabed. The children swim along the surface, from the end of the wings, carrying 25 metre long ‘scarelines’ with attached banners and a rock or ‘two-eyed’ chain as a weight that bangs on the coral reefs, scaring fish from their protective environment, and driving them with the current into the bag net. The divers then dislodge the net from the seabed, removing the rocks, and at the same time detaching the wings, ready to haul the bag with the fish to the surface. The net is cast up to ten times a day, with children spending extended periods in the water, fighting exhaustion and pushing themselves to the limits of their endurance. The work is extremely hazardous, with children diving without protective clothing or gear, except for home made wooden goggles. Every year children lose their lives, their hearing or are maimed.
And from Grace Calderon came a blog post full of photos and this article (parts of which I’ve edited for brevity):
For more than 30 years prior to its ban, the fishing method muro-ami was commonly used in the Philippines. During its heyday, it was the most lucrative fishing technique outside of larger-scale fishing businesses.
(My comment: Muro-ami was banned in 1998 so this practice would have begun in the late-1960s.)
During the time when muro-ami fishing was widely practiced, the Philippines ranked 12th in the world in marine fish production and had 27,000 square kilometers of coral reefs in good condition.
Ten to 15 percent of total production came from coral reefs. Healthy coral reefs yielded 20 to 25 metric tons per square kilometer per year.
The Japanese-inspired muro-ami fishing technique involves sending a large group of divers to depths of 30 to 90 feet, without protective clothing or gear save for homemade wooden goggles.
These divers plunge into the waters below armed with metal weights or large stones fitted on ropes to vigorously pound or bang on corals to drive fish out and into the waiting nets. Corals are eventually smashed in the process.
When the nets have been cast, hundreds of little boys jump off the ship’s ledge and plunge into the water with their metal weights or stones. Far down to a depth of up to 90 feet, they proceed to pound on the corals to frighten the fish out and into the gaping net.
To lure the fish quicker into the net, the boys swim with the fish as if part of the catch. With lungs about to burst, they have a few seconds to escape the net before it closes up. The unlucky ones that are not able to get out in time come up to the surface along with the catch–lifeless. The luckier ones spend the rest of their lifetime hearing-impaired or maimed.
Muro-ami fishing trawlers, mostly unseaworthy, stay out at sea for up to ten months. They roam the seas and drop anchor in areas of coral reefs and atolls. The stinking, unsanitary, and cramped quarters are often packed with as many as 400 to 500 adult crew and little boys as young as 7 years old.
Illegal Fishing Practices
Regretfully, I’m going to visit this topic again.
I was in Brooke’s Point when a hulbot operator was caught and then released with a slap on the wrist. More infuriating is how he was released. The defendants were able to hire a municipal employee who thought it was acceptable to defend the very suspects that his own employer–the municipality of Brooke’s Point–was trying to prosecute. That and the indifference of the local police chief–who I understand was six months from retirement–sprung the suspects from custody. Along with their illegal equipment. How disgustingly stupid.