Dead fish float in a fish pen in Lake Bito. (Photo by Ronald Reyes)
A second fish kill struck a lake in Leyte province this week, decimating villagers’ livelihoods and raising questions about nearby mining safety – despite test results that indicate sanitation and over-population issues. Peasant groups and residents are blocking Nicua Mining Corporation from bringing heavy machinery into the village, demanding the immediate suspension of mining activities in the area. The company extracts magnetite sand some 200 meters from the shore of Lake Bito in MacArthur town. After the first kill, on March 14, fecal coli from human and animal wastes was found during water testing by the Bureau of Food and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). Many houses on stilts surrounding the lake were found to have no sanitary toilets. Authorities also blamed overpopulation in fish pens and cages to have caused depletion of oxygen. Fish enclosures occupied 49 of the lake’s 115 hectares, well beyond the 10 percent limit. Dr. Nancy Dayap, regional head of BFAR's environmental and monitoring sector, said the fish kill was due to domestic pollution, aquaculture malpractices and "possible" contamination from a nearby mine site. The lake provides a living to almost 90 percent of residents around the body of water, which holds fish pens and cages for tilapia, carp, milkfish, shrimps and other freshwater fish. Around 22 tons of tilapia worth about 1.87 million pesos US$43,500) were lost when the first fish kill hit. The Promotion of Church People’s Response, Eastern Visayas, blames the mining corporation for the kills, said spokesperson Rev. Irma Mepico-Balaba. The government granted the company a permit to operate in the area in 2010. Balaba said the local government and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau allowed mining operations without properly consulting the affected villages. Tests also found traces of oil and grease coming from the mining site. Mercury intake of fish, however, was below international standard and no heavy metal contamination was found in water samples. Roger de Dios, mines director for Eastern Visayas, said his office is awaiting the result of another investigation conducted by the Environmental Management Bureau to settle the issue. BFAR has called on the local government of MacArthur and the villagers to address domestic pollution in the area as a condition for the release of new fingerlings to fishermen and to ensure that government aid will not be wasted. The provincial government has also approved a resolution regulating fish pens and cages in Lake Bito.