We found ourselves at the shores of Diora-Zinungan in Cagayan Valley at the break of dawn. Boats were already lined-up at the beach awaiting to take us to sea. The coastal town had been practicing beltfishing for more than two decades and it has become one of their main source of livelihood. Department of Tourism Region 2 recently spearheaded a program where tourist can experience their unique way of fishing. And we’re here to try our hand on their way of fishing.
The Kariti Evolution
Kuya Wilfredo, the lead for their fisherman’s group in Diora-Zinungan started the briefing about our activity. He showed a set of contraptions they used for fishing. The first one was the kariti, a manually-powered wheel pulley inspired by the hydraulic pulleys used by the Taiwanese fishermen. It actually looks like a bicycle crank which Wilfredo admitted were first used in its earlier designs back in 2000. Initially using wood but after a few trial and errors and a number of redesign, they now use these steel wheels over the last decade.
A a bow-shaped like bait with three hooks are attached to the nylon chords. These baits are especially designed for beltfishes. The kariti are attached to either the bow or stern. I must admit that it looks a bit crude but nevertheless, effective. Beltfishing with this kariti is quite a resourceful way of fishing with limited money or resources available.
Out to Sea
Over two decades of venturing the waters from 2 to 20 nautical miles or beyond from the mainland of Santa Ana, Cagayan, the fishermen of Diora-Zinungan learned from experience the intricacies of beltfishing. No fish finder devices used here. Instead, they studied the nature and behaviour of beltfishes over the years. They learned that beltfishes usually feed from early morning and sparingly the rest of the day. They yield more catch early morning. They also noticed they usually linger at the average depth of 80 fathoms (140 meters).
The Fickle Fish
Even with this common knowledge of the beltfish behavior and possible feeding locations on hand, they must admit that the beltfish can be elusive at times. Beltfish are elongated fish commonly known as the Largehead Hairtails common in tropical waters. Locally, they are called as “bulung-unas” or ribbonfish in the Cagayan region.
Unlike other fishes, when they feed on baits (usually strips of galungong or beltfish), they pull it downward and not side to side. Hence the 3-hook bow-like bait design works as they can catch three fishes simultaneously without getting entangled. However, they also noticed their unique behaviour of just taking small bites on the bait. And when they feel like it, they don’t bite at all, even for the whole day. This we had experienced first hand.
While our other companions had resounding cheers at their boats with their catches, our boat however yielded none. It didn’t help that we came in late at the feeding grounds since we had to assist another boat which had a failed engine. By the time we arrived at the, the schools of fish may have feasted on the other boats. Not to mention, the sea conditions like currents and weather can affect fishing.
After more than two hours at sea, our boat didn’t catch any. But we’re happy a lot from our group were able to take home some catch. The beltfishing experience doesn’t end there however. While the men (and the tourist) go fishing, the women of the community are responsible for cooking a portion of the catch. Visitors availing of the beltfishing experience also get to taste their catch. Two thirds of their catch will be cooked and served for a meal while the rest can be bought from the fishermen to be distributed to the community.
The Beltfishing Experience is designed to be a sustainable program that would benefit both the tourist and the community. Admittedly, according to Kuya Wilfredo, the beltfish population is dwindling. Before, they can easily catch 60-80 kilos a day, these days 30 kilos would be a blessing already.
Being part of the guiding experience would give them additional income and also help re-populate the beltfish population by fishing less.
Of course the program is still young and there are still room for improvements. As with any experiential tours like this, guides play a pivotal role. I’m not sure if every boatmen were as conversant as our guide, Kuya Wilfredo, who is used to speaking. I heard some boatmen were quiet. So training fishermen to guide should be an essential part of the program.
And also with tours dealing with nature like spotting whale sharks or birds in the wild, there are chances there won’t be any sightings so expectations should be tempered down.
Still for any tourist wishing to experience something local and unique, this beltfishing experience is worthwhile.
To book for a Beltfishing Experience in Santa Ana, Cagayan, contact https://www.facebook.com/cagayanturismo
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.