Back in the late 1940s, it was the practice of some people to catch fish from the Pansipit River1 using a mild poison extracted from the fruit of a tree. This practice of using poison to catch fish was likely used even before the American period and earlier and was by no means limited to Batangas.
The tree in question was the tinomiscium philippinense, known in Tagalog as “bayating.” At the time, the tree was reported to have been growing in Pangasinan, Tayabas and Laguna in Luzon, along with, of course, Batangas. It was also reported found in Biliran, Lanao and the Davao Provinces2.
Typically, the poison was prepared by roasting ripe fruits of the bayating until they turned dark as coffee. They were then mixed with “earthworms cut into pieces the size of kernels of corn3” and then pulverized.
At the Lemery-Taal area in Batangas, however, the practice was to mix the powdered fruit with crushed “katang4,” a small shore or river crab otherwise known as “talangka,” instead of earthworm5.
The powdered mixture contained picrotoxin, which is used in medicine as a “central nervous system stimulant and antidote for barbiturates6.” In the right dose, it was also to stun fishes.
At the Pansipit River, “the poison was applied by scattering the mixture in a pool of water or any portion of the river where the water was quiet7.” This was traditionally done in the evenings, so that the stunned fish could be collected in the mornings.
Notes and references:1 The Pansipit River, for those not from Batangas, is a river that divides the municipalities of Taal and Lemery. It is what remains of what used to be a channel that connected Taal Lake to the Bay of Balayan.
2 “Philippine Plants Used for Arrow and Fish Poison,” by Eduardo Quisumbing, published June 1947 in the Philippine Journal of Science, Volume 77 Number 2.
4 According to one source, the word “katang” is actually Hiligaynon for “talangka,” although the former is also frequently used in Batangas. “Talangka Crabs in the Philippines,” by Vicky Viray-Mendoza online at The Maritime Review.
5 Quisumbing, op. cit.
6 “Picrotoxin,” online at the PubChem database of the National Institute of Health (United States).
7 Quisumbing, op. cit.