June 21, 2018

Methods of Catching Fish in Balayan, Batangas in 1916

Fishermen in Batangas.  Image source:  Vicky So on Flickr
Fishermen in Batangas.  Image source:  Vicky So on Flickr.
[Keywords: Balayan Batangas, fishing materials, fishing methods, saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, American colonial era]
A 1916 paper entitled “The Fishing Industry of Balayan1,” written by one Lorenzo Protonel, enumerates and describes methods with which inhabitants of the town harvested the bounty from the sea and waterways. The paper is part of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections’ Henry Otley-Beyer Collection.

Although the methods Protonel described were specific to the town of Balayan, suffice it to say that these were likely also employed in other towns of the province and elsewhere in the country. The paper, therefore, offers insights into the ways of livelihood not just in Balayan and Batangas but also of other Filipinos during the American colonial era.

Freshwater Methods

By hand
The first method described by Protonel is one he also correctly called “the most primitive.” He wrote: “This is done simply by cautiously groping beneath the stones and between the crevices of rocks which are submerged in the water.” Protonel described the method, which was called “kapa” in Tagalog (to examine by touching), as inefficient. Not only did the fishes get away most of the time, those caught were also only the small ones. Protonel mentioned that small lobsters could be caught this way, but what he probably meant was a variety of crayfish because lobsters are marine or saltwater creatures2.

Use of tubes and sticks
Another freshwater method of catching fish and lobster, Protonel wrote, was by “placing bamboo tubes or bundles of sticks in the water.” This was an antiquated method called “bombon” in the 1754 publication “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala3, the use of branches and twigs as something of a fish trap. The problem with this method, however, was that this was slow. Protonel wrote that the catch was harvested “after a week or two” and obviously not one employed for an immediately meal.

An improvement over the previous method was the use of what was then called in Tagalog as “bañgon,” made of bamboo splits (or strands) “woven like a basket in a cylindrical form but tapering (i.e. narrowing) at one end.” Protonel continued, “At the entrance or mouth, there is a sort of funnel-shaped piece, which is also made of bamboo splits.” The piece was called “galaw” and prevented the fishes and lobsters from escaping from the trap. Roasted coconut meat or rice was used as bait. The traps were laid overnight and catch was harvested the next day.
The "bañgon" must have looked similar to the image above.  Image source:  Pitt Rivers Museum.
The "bañgon" must have looked similar to the image above.  Image source:  Pitt Rivers Museum.
The “sima” was a net one meter long and 1½ meters wide “placed against the current near some stones or accumulations of shrubs or grass.” It took two men to use, one to hold the “sima” in place and another to remove the stones and grass in the water. The net was then raised abruptly, catching the fishes and lobsters in the area. It could also be used at night, as Protonel described:
“A man puts heaps of shrubs or grass at various places in the river especially in those places where the water is quiet and shallow. Beneath these heaps of grass or shrubs, bait of finely roasted rice husks are placed. One hour after having placed the bait, the ‘sima’ is used to catch the lobsters and shrimps that have been eating the bait.”
The “dala” was another type of net used to catch fish. It was shaped, according to Protonel, “like a funnel or a tent.” Pieces of lead are fastened to the sides of the net to weigh it down in the water. The fisherman “first folded his arm in such a way that it (the net) will spread out when he throws it. Then, he goes around and looks for a group or band of fish. As soon as he sees one, he approaches it cautiously and then throws his ‘dala’ upon it so as to cover and encircle the group.”

Use of the “sima” with fish corrals
The final freshwater method of fishing Protonel mentioned involved heaping “sticks, grass, (pieces of) wood and shrubs” onto the water, then surrounding it with a “corral of bamboo splits” bound together using a vine called “hagnaya” {probably rattan). The “sima” was then used to collect the fishes caught inside the corral.

Saltwater Methods

Hook and line
Not a lot of attention will be devoted to this method, which ought to be familiar to all readers. Protonel mentioned, however, that the fisherman could fish standing on the beach or aboard a “banca” (a local boat) using a line with “two or more hooks.”

Fishermen in Balayan also caught fish using the “sacag,” which Protonel described as “exactly like the ‘sima’ except that it is four or five times as large.” The “sacag” was used exclusively at night, so that the fisherman using it carried a torch on the top of his hat to attract the fishes.

Protonel described the “pante” as “a long fish net with buoys of pieces of wood along one side and pieces of lead along the other. It is handier than the common big fish net for it is smaller and made of finer thread.” Two men would hold the net at opposite ends while several others would beat the waters with poles or sticks to drive the fishes to the net. Protonel described this as an “efficient” way of catching fish, only that bigger fishes could not be caught with the “pante” because the method was used on shore.

The “pukot” was a modern4 type of fishing net, according to Protonel. One type of this net was called “panguilid” (literally, for the side) which was used in shallow waters or by the shore; and “panlaot” (“laot” is Tagalog for deep sea) for use in deep waters. On shore, the “pukot” was used when a school of fish was spotted. It was immediately cast upon the school and then pulled together to close on the fishes. The “panlaot,” on the other hand, was loaded onto big boats which then went to deep waters. When a fish was spotted, the net was dropped onto it; and two men called “buzo” dove into the water to fasten together the ends of the net. Protonel noted that as much as ₱800 pesos worth of fishes could be caught using the “pukot” each time.

The final method used for fishing in saltwater that Protonel described was fish corral, of which there were two types. One was called the “baklad” while the other was the “panak.” Both were made using bamboo splits fastened together using a vine.
Above, the "baklad" or local fish corrals.  Image source:  Cesar Castro on Flickr.
Above, the "baklad" or local fish corrals.  Image source:  Cesar Castro on Flickr.
Notes and references:
1The Fishing Industry of Balayan,” by Lorenzo Protonel 1916, online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2Lobster,” Wikipedia.
3Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala,” by Juan de Noceda, Pablo Clain and Pedro de Sanlucar. First published 1754.
4 Protonel’s use of the word “modern” was, of course, within the context of the era he was writing about.

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