Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) wants to sit down with fishpen and fishcage operators in Laguna de Bay before the planned imposition of moratorium on the issuance and renewal of their permits beginning January next year.

This was revealed by DENR Undersecretary Arturo Valdez, who also heads the National Anti-Environmental Crime Task Force (NAECTF) that recently conducted demolition operations on a 13-hectare illegal fishpen in Laguna Lake falling within the jurisdiction of Muntinlupa City.

Valdez said the dialogue between Lopez and the fishpen and fishcage operators aims to reassure the government's commitment to providing small-time fisherfolk priority access to the 90,000-hectare lake.

"The thrust there is to send the message that the DENR, under Secretary Lopez, will rationalize the lake and the bias will be for the fisherfolk to have access to their traditional fishing ground," Valdez said.

Valdez said that at the heart of the effort is Lopez's agenda to make Laguna Lake "a showcase for social justice."

"Secretary Lopez has made it very clear that the fisherfolk should enjoy the lake," he said.

The coming dialogue was in line with President Rodrigo Duterte's directive to dismantle vast tracts of corporate and private fishpens and fishcages in order for small-time fisherfolk to have access to their traditional fishing ground.

The lake’s current carrying capacity allows up to only 9,000 hectares for aquaculture, but fish pens and cages are occupying 12,375.18 hectares of the surface water, showing a total of 3,375 hectares of excess area for demolition.

But Valdez believes the actual area could be bigger. "I would say it is more than that," Valdez said.

He said that the demolition “was to send a strong message” to the operators of illegal structures to self-dismantle before they enforce the President's order to dismantle illegal aqua facilities by the second week of December.

"We will give them all the chance to harvest their stock," he added.

Data from the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) show that there are a total of 1,018 registered or legitimate fish pen and cage operators in Laguna Lake, covering a total of 9,519 hectares. Of this number, 713 are fishcage operators, while 305 are fishpen operators.

According to the LLDA, unregistered operators number to 2,261, occupying 2,856 hectares.

In all, a total of 3,246 structures (both registered and unregistered) can be found in the lake area, consisting of 358 fishpens and 2,890 fishcages which show a mix of corporations and individual owners.

The LLDA has developed a map identifying areas for fishpens, fishcages, fish sanctuaries and open fishing, and identified navigational and barangay access lanes to facilitate the movement of people, goods and services within the lake.

To ensure the maintenance of open fishing ground, the LLDA has designated fish sanctuaries covering around 30,000 hectares in Muntinlupa City, 5,000 hectares in Jala-Jala and Talim Island in Rizal and Laguna Bay, and 127 hectares in Brgy. Tabon, Binangonan, Rizal.###