Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Chinese Softshell Turtle “Invade” Laguna Bay, Threaten Fishing Industry in Philippines – via Herp Digest

Wednesday, 13 February 2013, Business Mirror, Philippines 
by Jonathan L. Mayuga / Reporter

THE Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has expressed alarm over the growing number of Chinese softshell turtles “invading” Laguna de Bay, threatening the multimillion milkfish and tilapia industry there.

Gerry Albert Corpuz, public information officer of Pamalakaya, said these turtles, scientifically known as Pelodiscus sinesis and first reported to have infested fishponds in Region 3 (Central Luzon), have now reached the bay.

“They [the Chinese turtles] are aggressive eaters. They grow fast and even move faster than local turtles,” Corpuz said.

He added that the Chinese turtles were reportedly as big as the pawikan or Philippine sea turtle.

The Pamalakaya official expressed fears that the turtles would adversely affect fish-cage and fishpen operators, as well as small-scale fishermen, who depend on the bay for their livelihood.

The Chinese turtles are the latest non-native marine species to have invaded the bay. Other non-native species like the janitor fish and knife fish have competed with milkfish and tilapia for food there.

Officials of the militant group saw how aggressive the turtles can be during a recent dialogue with fishermen working at Laguna de Bay, where Pamalakaya Vice Chairman Salvador France was shown a predatory turtle caught by fisherfolk from Barangay Layunan in Rizal province’s Binangonan town.

According to him, the turtle tried to attack one of the fishermen after it was released in the bay.

In a statement, France expressed dismay that government agencies are doing nothing to prevent the Chinese turtles from multiplying in the bay.

“We are just puzzled why officials of the Laguna Lake Development Authority and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources [DENR] continue to play deaf on complaints [about] the proliferation of predatory turtles across the 94,000-hectare Laguna de Bay. They never report the presence of this predatory creature in Laguna Lake to the general public,” he said.

DENR officials in Central Luzon earlier confirmed that the turtles have proliferated in the region and threatening the milkfish and tilapia industry there. In response, the department created a task force to look into the distribution, feeding habits and reproductive features of the turtles, which were introduced in the country in the 1990s.

The officials fear that the continued proliferation of the turtles might adversely affect rivers and streams, and seriously threaten the aquaculture industry in Central Luzon.

Fishermen and fishpond owners in the towns of Arayat, Candaba, San Luis, Minalin, Macabebe and Apalit in Pampanga province likened the turtle menace to the “golden kuhol” because of its adverse impact.

One measure the officials are implementing to address the problem is catching the turtles for local consumption. In Pampanga, three individuals were granted a permit to collect a combined 36,820 heads of live turtles in 2013, or about 30,700 kilos of turtle meat.

In 2012 about 349,170 heads of live turtles, or 236,250 kilos of turtle meat, were caught.

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