Balangay’s Best: Ushering in a Sea Change with Artisanal Fishing

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Fisherfolk are among the most disadvantaged sectors in Philippine society. Slaves to the weather and the dictates of fish traders, fisherfolk often live a hand-to mouth existence.

But Balangay’s Best is helping change the fortunes of these fisherfolk. Initially it partnered with select fishing communities in Bantayan Island, Cebu, which continues to recover from the utter devastation caused by Yolanda in 2013.

Since then it has been able to expand to six fishing communities nationwide (Looc and Lubang in Occidental Mindoro; Ayungon and Bindoy in Negros Oriental and Cantilan and Cortes in Surigao del Sur.)

Balangay’s Best is a brand of high-quality, naturally processed, wild-caught sustainable seafood products made by Filipino fishermen. It is manufactured and distributed by Fishers and Changemakers Inc., a prime mover and lone social enterprise established in 2014 that partners with local fishing communities. Later on, spurred by the need to adhere to environment-friendly technologies and equitable business practices, it partnered with RARE Philippines, an international NGO that inspires change so that nature and people will thrive.

Through these methods, Balangay’s Best seeks to solve problems with overfishing and destructive fishing methods that will ultimately wipe out fish populations and marine resources on which the people depend through the following solutions: empowering fisher-entrepreneurs, producing sustainable seafood products, providing equitable income and profit to incentivize the fishers who practice sustainable behaviors and lastly, facilitating synergies to create a holistic “sea to table” value chain.

Balangay’s Best, for instance, teaches partner fisherfolk to sell only what is available, guided by the fishery specialist of RARE and at prices that reflect a higher value of the resources. This means cutting out the middleman, going direct to the market and dictating the price of the produce. Consumers thus pay for the true cost of the fish that they consume.

Balangay’s Best likewise requires its partner fisherfolk to use only sustainable fishing methods such as catching fish at the right place with the right gear, and making sure they are caught at the right size and time. Fishers are also required to be registered and licensed, when co-managing their fishery.

To address the need both for livelihood and food security, the organization launched its initial products “dried seafood” using tested and health-friendly methods.

John Ortega, 50, is one of the legions of fishermen benefiting from Balangay’s work in Bantayan Island, which is renowned for its fish products.

“I had a totally different life before Typhoon Yolanda and Balangay,” Ortega said. “I would resort to illegal fishing methods like dynamite fishing, and I would bring all the catch, even if the fish were still small. What was important was that I had a catch, unmindful of whether or not it was illegal.”

“But Balangay taught us about the proper way not only of fishing but also of taking care of the sea,” he said.

Balangay’s Best model includes empowering the fisherfolk with training on the preservation of aquatic resources. This ensures sustainability as fishermen themselves become protectors of the seas.

Thanks to Balangay, I am now a community organizer. I explain coastal management and many other concerns to the community,” Ortega explained. “Also, I was awarded a certificate as a ranger to watch against illegal fishers and to apprehend them. The illegal fishers respect me and defer to me because they know I have been trained by Balangay.”

“BALANGAY TAUGHT US ABOUT THE PROPER WAY NOT ONLY OF FISHING BUT ALSO OF TAKING CARE OF THE SEA.”

James Mata, 29 years old, has been a fisherman at Bantayan Island, Cebu since he was 10. He has also noted a marked improvement in his life as a fisher-entrepreneur since Balangay’s Best intervened.

“Life was difficult before Balangay,” he said. “Back then, when the weather was bad and I could not fish, I could only stay at home and I would not earn income. But Balangay taught me, in effect, how to run a business.”

“These days, if I can’t fish for any reason, I buy fish from other fishermen and I process them into preserved fish or danggit, which I can sell at a higher price. Balangay not only taught us proper fishing methods but also the proper way of cutting and preserving fish. The lessons are all a really big help,” Mata said.

The interventions from Balangay’s Best came at great expense to its organizers. The members of the organization were initially not into it full time. They had day jobs and ran Balangay out of compassion and a sincere desire to improve the lives of fisherfolk like Ortega and Mata while conserving the country’s marine resources.

A brand of high-quality, naturally processed, wild-caught sustainable seafood products, Balangay’s Best aims to empower Artisan Filipino fishermen through skills training such as bookkeeping and finance

“Our lives have greatly improved with Balangay’s help,” said Ortega. “We now have motorboats, which are a big help to any fisherman, and we got financial assistance to start a business out of preserving fish. I think that was the personal money of the Balangay officers.”

Realizing the personal sacrifice of the members of Balangay’s Best certainly enhanced the responsiveness of the organization’s communities.
“We saw that the organizers were really trying their best to help us and they took pains to explain things and educate us. They really motivated us to learn,” said Ortega.

“My best experience with Balangay has undoubtedly been my learning how to run a business, and even that was started with capital provided by Balangay,” added Mata.

Balangay’s Best provided training on a wide range of skills such as bookkeeping and finance. Now, some of the fishermen have themselves become trainers while others are helping run the back office of Balangay’s Best.

Mary Adelyn Tecson, one of the cofounders of Balangay’s Best, said the organization merely set the fisherfolk on a path of continuing improvement, and now the fishermen and their families are moving forward on their own momentum.

“We tried to show the community members where they are now and where they can go, and I think they realized that progress is possible, and their dreams can still go higher. They will not settle for anything less anymore,” Tecson said.

Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime, goes the saying. With the teachings of Balangay’s Best, imagine how far its fisher partners can go

This story is part of a series of articles written by GO NEGOSYO writers being published by GoodNewsPilipinas.com as part of our support to Philippine businesses.

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