The Market: It’s not just fish but that’s mostly what I’m going to talk about

When I first arrived in my municipality, the market terrified me. It’s big, loud, confusing, and all around assaulting to all of your senses. The perimeter is lined with small groceries, carinderias, bakeries, and other assorted shops. The inside is dimly lit, cram-packed with tables and booths that change locations at irregular intervals. However, after being here for 9 months, I’ve come around. It’s basically like Wal-Mart, but even crazier.

The first section is mostly household goods, selling everything from pots and hangers, to rat poison, clothing, machetes, and Korean DVDs. Moving back, the stalls transition to produce, to snacks, to grains, and finally to meat and fish. There are alcoves and carts for cell phone repair, coconut shredding, and haircuts. The narrow walkways overflow with smaller sellers setting up there goods on tarps or banana leaves.

And all of the above, is just a regular day, not an official market day. On market days (Tuesday and Friday), no floor space is left unclaimed by sellers and the market expands itself outside of its normal bounds and fills the basketball court with more goods and ukay-ukay.

Ukay-ukay (literally meaning dig-dig as clothes and accessories are often displayed in piles) is the Filipino version of a flea market, where most of the clothes come from other countries.

But, most my market time is spent at the back, in the:fish section.jpg

Twice a week, I accompany my coworker as she conducts the price monitoring interviews with the roughly 50-80 fish sellers. We do this in order to keep track of both what species are available and how the price fluctuates over time. (She does most of the work. I mostly point, ask questions, and sample snacks.) Fish sold come not only from our municipality, but all over the island. Many sellers commute to larger ports in order to get access to more rare or prized deep sea fish. Most of he fluctuations have to do with the weather (stormy days means less fishers go out), but there appear to be all kinds of factors. No two market days are the same.

One fish is always there, Bangrus, or milkfish. These fish are grown in the ponds that dominate the landscape of Capiz.

There are typically a variety of shells– oysters, mussels, snails, scallops and clams:

Some cephalopods:

Tiny shrimp, fermented and sold as a paste to giant prawns and mantis shrimp:

Eels, sharks, and rays:


And all kids of other fish, small, big, weird and everything in between!

It might seem that with a fish market like this, productive and diverse, things are going pretty well for the fisherfolk and the fisheries of Capiz. But, I should add, that while many fisherfolk agree that although enforcement, management, and community involvement and organization are improving, overall fishing is getting harder. Fishers observe less fish today than there were 10 years ago. The fish they catch are smaller. And, several high valued species have seemingly disappeared from the local fishing grounds. 

Why is happening? Most fishers would first tell you the reason we are seeing declining fish stocks is because of overfishing and destructive fishing. Fortunately, these are two areas we can actively work to combat. Through education and strict enforcement, the Philippines has already seen great reductions in destructive fishing methods such as dynamite fishing. But, it’s still an ongoing battle.

However, we can not ignore that climate change has had a particularly strong effect on the countries like the Philippines. It is hard to find a fisherfolk, no matter their political leanings or level of education, that does not believe climate change is a major problem for their livelihood. In Capiz, storms have intensified and seasonal patterns have been affected. Coral bleaching is rampant and sea grass areas have shrunken down to patches, leading to less suitable fish habitat. These issues will only intensify in the future and makes it all the more important that fisherfolk are supported and have access to the tools they need.

Anyway, I hope you liked the pictures of the market.

Amat-Amat: Baby Steps and Continuing Work with FARMCs

Woah, I’ve been in the Philippines for 9 months today! (That was true when I started this post a few days ago at least.) That means, as a fellow volunteer pointed out, that my 27 month service is 1/3 over. It also follows that I have a year and a half left. Depending on the day, that seems either really near or really far away.

I’m happy to share, I’ve been fairly busy lately. Not everything is going smoothly, but things are certainly going. The main activity on my plate right now is a massive re-organization of both the Barangay and Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Councils (BFARMC and MFARMCs, respectively).

Over six months ago, I wrote a post about FARMCs. As a quick review, they’re basically organizations of fisherfolk for every level of government, from the smallest (barangay) to the largest (national). In my last post, I talked about how in a perfect world these organizations would create local fisheries management, created by fisherfolk, for fisherfolk (with a little help from local government, NGOs and national agencies).

My municipality and our FARMCs are not there yet. And we have a ways to go. But, now we’re working in the right direction. To get things started, we enlisted the help of the provincial BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) director. He agreed to join in a meeting with all of the barangay captains (local leaders) to and share our plans to organize the fisherfolk in their barangays.

Next, my filipino work partners and I visited all 10 barangay and held information sessions and elections. Basically, we’re now the proud parents of 10 newly-born fisherfolk organizations. Some of these infant organizations are better off than others with strong leadership, vocal members, and supportive barangay officials. The rest might take some extra TLC…

Now, with most of these new groups deciding to have monthly meetings, my schedule is filling up. The goal is for each group to be self sufficient where they are able to set their own agendas and goals, have their own funds and budget. However, right now, I’ll be happy if the meetings simply happen.

So far, the regular meetings are off to a bumpy start. Of the four originally scheduled for the first week of April, all but one was postponed. The one that went on as scheduled started almost 2 hours late and had 15 participants out of about 140 potential fishfolk members…

But as they say in Hiligaynon, amat-amat… or as I’d say, baby steps. It isn’t easy to get busy fisherfolk and fishworks to come together in an organized way once a month. On top of having hectic work schedules, many have second sources of incomes and families to take care of. Further, most organizational efforts have proved ineffective and teetered out in the past for all sorts of reasons. And, starting from scratch, we have very few resources (or pesos for snacks) to work with. This is likely to be an up hill battle.

Over the next 18 months, I’ll continue to attend meetings. I hope to help these organizations gain recognition and find support in their communities. This month, I also plan to have an orientation meeting for a the municipal level FARMC and get that up and running as well. I’ll be sure to post another update down the road.

Wish me luck!

FARMCs in the Philippines: A little lesson in fish management

I’ll try to make this as painless as possible. But, I want to talk a little bit about fisheries management in the Philippines and how this relates to some challenges I will face during my Peace Corps service.

First, some context. Not long ago, many people believed the oceans had an endless bounty. Turns out that’s just not true. In most of the world, fish populations are in decline due to a number of reasons, not limited to climate change, pollution, development, habitat loss and overfishing. From an environmentalist’s perspective this is tragic, but from a human perspective, even more so.

Here are some quick figures for the Philippines (BFAR 2014).

  • As of 2002, there were more than 1.6 million people working within the fishing industry
  • 40% of those fisherfolk live below the poverty line
  • Fish and seafood make up 11% of a Filipino’s daily total food intake
  • There was a 5% drop in seafood production from 2009 to 2014
  • The Philippines is the 7th largest global producer of seafood
  • The fishing industry makes up 1.6% of the GDP (for comparison it’s less than 0.2% in the US)

In the Philippines, management of municipal waters (from the shore to 15 miles out) starts at the smallest level of government- the barangay. Coastal barangays range in size, but most are quite small, not more than a couple thousand people. In the late 1990s the Philippines mandated that all coastal barangays (and those with major lake/river systems) form Barangay Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils (BFARMCs). These councils are to be made of at least 3/4ths local fishfolk, meet monthly, and are in charge of everything from creating management plans to research, regulation, and law enforcement. So, basically everything relating to their fishing practices.

Also mandated was the creation of Municipal level (the next largest level of government) councils (MFARMCs), which should coordinate and oversee the BFARMCs and work with law makers to create new regulations. Above that, there should also be IFARMCs (I for Integrated) for municipalities to co-manage shared bodies of water. Then there is finally the NFARMC (N for National), overseeing everything else.

In a perfect system, the BFARMCs would take care of most of the work. And, being made up mostly of fisherfolk, these councils would maintain a healthy and harmonious fishing community where both the resources and and the fisherfolk are well looked after. When issues might arise, local councils would communicate with the local government units and find solutions through training, legislation, and community organizing. The higher levels (M/I/NFARMCs) would simply smooth out disputes among smaller units and pass general policies as needed.

Of course, no system is perfect. Unfortunately, not all coastal barangay have BFARMCs. Then, not all barangays with BFARMCs meet regularly. And, regularly meeting BFARMCs have their problems, too. Without a solid base of BFARMCs, it’s difficult to have well-organized MFARMCs, and on up the chain to the national level.

Now, in my office (I work at the municipal, or second smallest, level), we have been tasked with re-organizing the MFARMC, despite non to partially functioning BFARMCs. If you have somehow managed to follow me this far, you see why this is an issue. The office I work in is hardworking, but small and tight on resources and manpower. And, these problems are by no means unique to my municipality.

For the record, I think the system in place in the Philippines has great potential. Who better to speak to the concerns of the fishfolk than the fishfolk themselves? They have the most at stake and know the system they live and work within better than anyone else. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, it is not my role to come in and solve all the problems, even if I could. However, I hope to contribute to the solution in my next two years.


Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to comment/ask questions below.


Community Based Training: 1 month down, 1 month to go

Posting regular blog entries has proven to be somewhat of a challenge. At my training site, cell phone service is hard to come by, internet is a whole other issue. I am now about a month into CBT (Community Based Training) and a month away from swearing in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer at the US embassy.

CBT life is really good. I live in a gorgeous barangay and am surrounded by a lot of pretty cool people. I’m very busy. But, as a trainee, I don’t feel any of the pressure I expect I will deal with as a volunteer. I have training sessions twice a day, Monday through Saturday.

On a typical day, I wake up around 6 or 7 am to noises of a busy house mixed with dogs and roosters, and the occasional early-morning Videoke session. By this time, my host mother (nanay) and father (tatay) are already awake and busy. The kids are slowly moving and getting ready for school. Some mornings, I’ll walk to the beach with my nanay and to buy some fresh fish, right off of the boat.

I eat almost all of my meals with my host family. Everyone comes home for work or school and has lunch together. My host family noticed how excited I got trying new varieties of seafood, especially crabs. Now every time they bring home a new crab they make sure I get a picture.

By 5 or 6 at night, I’m done with most scheduled activities. Most nights, I’ll head right home and greeted by an excited group of children. Sometimes, I’ll go with them to the beach or play games at the house. If it’s rainy, I’ll stay in and watch TV (Filipino crime dramas, Filipino Family Feud, The Voice Kids), read, or work on Tagalog homework. We usually eat dinner late and I’m bed, freshly showered (tabo showered) underneath my mosquito net by 9 pm.

Before arriving in the Philippines, I really very little understanding of the work I might being doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I thought I might have the opportunity to participate in fun science-y things like coral gardening and would be talking to a bunch of fisherman. I wasn’t wrong, but now I understand the main goal of my service is local empowerment, within the framework of coastal resource management.

Here in the Philippines, coastal resources are managed more bottom-up and at a much more local scale than in the United States. In fact, many decisions happen at the barangay (the smallest unit of Filipino government) level.  As a Volunteer, this is the level I will be working.

Of course, I will still probably get to do a lot of fun science-y things. Depending on the needs of my   permanent site, I may need to help organize mangrove, sea grass, and coral assessments. However, I now understand that the science and data collection really takes a back seat to community organization and education/outreach.

Initial Orientation: You Know Nothing Peace Corps Trainee


Initial orientation is the first two weeks in country as an official Peace Corps Trainee. During these weeks, we are coddled. We are given nice rooms with Wifi and AC. We are given a buffet 3 times a day and two meriendas (snack times!). Also, IIRR, the compound where we stayed, was gorgeous- complete with a pool and basketball court. So many flowers!

However, despite all the amenities, IO was no cake walk. Of course, we were kept fairly busy with information/training sessions twice a day, four hours each. But the real trouble was the adjusting: to the time change (12 hours difference!), the food (stomach troubles galore), the language, and to the idea that we all basically arrived in a country as new born babies, having to relearn the most basic necessities of survival.

Also, PC really likes to emphasize the importance of being comfortable with ambiguity. Because they tell us only what we need to know. I do not blame them, many things are up in the air and have to be rearranged last minute. I have now been in the Philippines for nearly a month, and I still have no idea where I’ll spend the majority of my service, or what language I’ll need to be speaking.

I left the comforts of IO one week ago, yesterday. It feels like it was months ago. I’m now living with a wonderful host family in the coastal barangay of Mabayo. For the sake of my new family members, I am extremely thankful to have been given those two weeks at IIRR. However, it feels good to be out of isolation and on to community-based training.

Oh, and just for fun, here’s some pretty coral pictures from a field trip out to Batangas on the last Friday of IO.