042413 - The Urban Tracker (In Pangasinan): The Fishpen Caretakers Of 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 among those inland sanctuaries. 

 photo DSCN8474_zps900e2978.jpg
Waiting for that next ride going to Salapingao
By the riverside boat as one of waiting list passenger, my day was all set to get dispatched to one of those island barangays in Dagupan - Salapingao...alone.

 photo 922660_4887294739735_12985341_o.jpg
Cruising into those communities of the island fortress
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 bordering Dagupan and Benmaley.

Passing the overpass skyway cutting thru Pantal River. 
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 a drop to 2 stopovers before landing to my prospect point.

The Judge Jose De Venecia Highway Extension was built to create a shortcut for motorists 
We're already crossing a new highway infrastructure, the Judge Jose De Venecia Highway Extension, a connecting skyway from the district of Lucao for motorists going to Northern provinces. A campaign print of a local candidate for upcoming election was hanging on it. The air was a breeze that blew my face as the motored boat zoomed on its peaking speed.

 photo DSCN8287_zps074828da.jpg
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 build huts near their fish pond and fence it with bamboo as boundary points as they serve as a mini-warehouse where 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 of East Salapingao with 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.

 photo DSCN8272_zps400c88a1.jpg
Kampis, a popular shellfish produced in waters off Dagupan
His introduced himself as Mang Alfredo while showing me his catch of local shellfish called kampis he produced for the whole morning. Harvesting this kind of shellfish thriving in the area is an alternative to fishing for locals. 

Kampis (Isoenomon eppiphium) is a variety of shellfish indigenous in Pangasinan. A relative of oysters, it grows abundantly in brackish waters of Pantal river. Mang Alfredo simply boiled the kampis and invited me for an early lunch suggesting me to dip it in a vinegar.

 photo DSCN8274_zpsd1845c39.jpg
Salapingao inlets 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 do 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 fishponds in various locations.The fishpond covers and measures like a hectare,  just one of 3 fishpond sites the family is protecting and looking after. Each fishpond has its own headquarter post where they could lay down, lay the feeds and rest while on guard.

 photo 914019_4869268409088_117796193_o.jpg
A bangus 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. 

 photo 901185_4869273049204_1105866959_o.jpg
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 are 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.

 photo 459533_4887300659883_2034707202_o.jpg
Top view from another hut station of main water fishpond
There's even one in the middle of Pantal River  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 brackish waters. Balance is necessary for a slip could mean a fall to the waters. Besides, I brought no replacement clothes.

 photo 919524_4887290739635_286616255_o.jpg
Getting ready for another feeding session by the edge of the stilts.
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 of 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 feeding action in store here
And the action was indeed more riotous 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 unmindful of the fate of fishponds in the area for years to come.