042413 - The Urban Tracker (In Pangasinan): The Fishpen Caretakers In Salapingao

From Pantal docks, these bancas are sidelined for the day's action.
n Dagupan, the prevalence of bangus raising extends even up to reachable inland barangays that account for the ample supply of bangus. 

Seeing these rows of multi-colored bancas docked in Pantal river banks gave me hope that somehow I would be carried in those sanctuaries. By the riverside boat as one of waiting list passenger, my day was all set to get dispatched in one of those island barangays in Dagupan - Salapingao...alone.

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Waiting for that next ride, my destination hang above me
There's a school on the island as the sign suggested hanging above me  - West Sagur happened to be one of drop off points going to the fabled island. Salapingao from the passerby word is a fishing village that borders Dagupan and Benmaley.

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Cruising into those communities of the island fortress
And so the navigation began with a boat ride full of locals who all bought their supplies and stuff from the downtown market and brought with them on the island enough to carry on for days. The operator told us there are 2 stopovers before landing to my prospect point.

Passing the overpass highway into Lucao
This highway project was built to create a shortcut for motorists 
We're already crossing a new skyway highway infrastructure connecting to the town of Lucao with a campaign print of a local candidate for upcoming election. The air was a breeze that blew my face as the motored boat zoomed on its peaking speed.

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Huts with bamboo stilts act as a small warehouse of transported goods by the river.
Nearing the drop off terminal points, it’s becoming clear that dwellers built huts near their fish pond or fence it with bamboo as boundary points. These huts served as headquarters where the fish feeds are stored and loaded. Bangus or milkfish is popularly a part of life among the local fishers or growers here - a staple lifeline popularly known as Dagupan bangus.

The docking area into Salapingao, a barangay detached from main Dagupan
At last, I arrived at the dock East Salapingao and I had thoughts running through my mind about how locals here breed the famous Dagupan bangus. The first local fisher that I met told me that a distinct taste of bangus is attributable to the quality of the water.

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Kampis, a popular shellfish produced in waters off Dagupan
His name is Mang Alfredo and he also showed me his catch of local shellfish called kampis he did for the whole morning. Harvesting kampis is an alternative to fishing here a variety of shellfish that grows endemically in this area. After boiling the kampis, I took a taste test for curiosity and the best way to eat it he suggested is dipped in a vinegar and it's not bad at all.

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The islands are home to rows of fish ponds hectares in size
Another local family hosted me for the remaining afternoon and took me to an in-land sanctuary o the fishpond. The Urbano family did not own this fishpond instead big fishpen operators hired them as caretakers to attend daily to the feeding of thousand of fishlings and manage the big fishponds.The fishpond covered like a hectare and it's just one of three fishpond sites the family was protecting and looking after with each have its own headquarter post where they could lay down, rest while on guard.

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A fishpond makeshift feeder
This mineral dispenser is suspended meant as an improvised suction where feeds are naturally released when the fishes start to agitate the wires connected to the surface of the pond. 

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Feeding frenzy of the bangus 
This was how the feeding frenzy took place and such a joy to see the waters dancing and splashing while the fishlings were in for a bite. As a rule, the fishpen caretakers were not allowed to catch even one of them as a rule. Inspectors were roving to check for pilferage because these catches are for commercial usage with owners shelling out expenses on raising bangus. But I thought our moment already stopped here.

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Top view from another hut station of main water fishpond
There's more when we transferred to another fishpond on the waters fenced by nets. I needed to maneuver a small manual boat with a paddle to get to the hut in the middle of the waters. Balance is necessary for a slip could mean a fall to the waters. Besides, I brought no replacement clothes.

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Getting ready for another feeding session
Ruben and his family were graceful enough to take me with them in the hut after they shared lunch with me. The hut was all made with bamboo and nipa straws even the walkways were made up of bamboo stilts. This was the biggest of the fishpond that this family maintains every day and they did make sure to keep a sack of feeds here on stand-by to keep the fishes well-fed.

My host flashing a smile with her baby and the sacks of feeds
Inside the bamboo hut, my gracious host wife Maryann was taking care of her baby who looked like he's getting used to this kind of set-up. Her smile was as gentle as the breeze that seemed not to run out in this secluded hut with a calmness of a resort.

More bangus action in store here
And the action was indeed wilder with another batch of hungry creatures being fed here. Bangus must achieve a standard of quality because they are being sold to big players or exported out of the country. Besides feeding, monitoring the fishpond nets to prevent the fish escape and other concerns are also important matters to check and attend to because the owners know the headcount of the fishlings and expect that at least half of them grows into a healthy adult.

The view of expanse from huts native straw roofings
So, after all, there's so much hope for the family clinging to this practice but a fishkill incident is sometimes inevitable because the temperature of water here can change drastically that affects the oxygen content of the water that can spell the death of fish due to suffocation ...a menace to the business.

The fishpond caretakers son leading my way back to mainland Dagupan.
As the family took me back to the dock for my ride back to downtown. This son of the family John Rey was contemplating on something but I hope he could still realize that hope in many years to come - there's still remaining fishpond to care and look after.
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