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Worms as Fish Bait: Fishers Way of Life

Many people undermine the importance of saving the coastal ecosystem from ruin due to water pollution traced from unfriendly practices and discharges from pollutive or hazardous industries that dot the shoreline. This may be due to ignorance or plain apathy to the abundance of organisms living along the coastal zone which can influence or determine the very source of livelihood of marginalized fishermen.

Daily Search for Worms as Bait

The abundance of the coastal zone and the dependence of marginalized fishermen to its bounty can be demonstrated by looking at a common activity in the rural areas of tropical countries like the Philippines. This activity is about the daily search for worms to be used as bait in fishing by ordinary fishermen.

As the author strolled along BM beach in Puerto Princesa the other week, he noticed two fishermen bending while holding and waving something a few feet from the edge of the waters. Stricken by curiosity, he approached the two fishers and observed what they were doing.

Walking up closely, he found out that the thing they were holding were bunches of brown algae. These were floated and slowly waved to and fro in a circular motion in ankle deep water. The author asked one of the men to explain what they were doing. The man replied that the bunch of algae served as an object for worms to cling to as these are passed on top of the sandy bottom. The worms attach themselves to algae with their muscular mouth mistaking it for its prey and are captured by hand in the process. These worms were collected into a white plastic container cut in half with a vertical slit along the sides to release water and prevent the worms from escaping once seawater gradually fills the container (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1. Worms that will serve as fish bait.

Integrity of the Coastal Ecosystem and Its Significance to People's Livelihood

This small, apparently insignificant routine in the life of the fishermen depends a lot on the integrity of the coastal ecosystem on which this livelihood activity is performed. Obviously, pollution of the coastal waters will most likely cause the death of these worms as they ingest toxic metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, among others [1] that compose the discharges of industrial plants.

What then is the long-term consequence of coastal water pollution? Adopting the ecosystem level perspective, worms compose one of the very basic foundations of the food web in the nearshore waters. Mortality of the worms will mean that those organisms, like for example worm-feeding fish, that depend on the existence of these worms as prey will no longer survive.

On the economic side, the lack of worms to serve as bait for fishing by marginalized fishermen will mean initially more time for fishermen to look for better places to obtain their bait; valuable time which could be devoted to other productive endeavors (opportunity cost). On the extreme scenario of losing the worms as bait for fish due to pollution, the marginalized fishermen will be forced to leave their traditional source of bait for fish and explore other places. This of course will mean more fuel for their boats or more energy expended to find a viable source of bait. And this will mean that fish will become more expensive as fishers recuperate their investment.

Reference

[1] Environmental Management Bureau, 2008. DENR Administrative Order 2008 - XX. Water Quality Guidelines and General Effluent Standards. Available at http://emb.gov.ph/wqms/Draft DAO on the Revised WQG and GES rev 121807.pdf

©2012 May 5 Patrick A. Regoniel

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