Fishing in The Philippines


The guest house where we were staying was beautifully situated, on a headland.

From the veranda of our thatch hut, we had a view of jungle clad mountains sweeping down into a deep elliptical bay.

Set back in the palms crowding the bay and only partly visible, were the small houses of fishermen.

Their boats however, small, simple wooden outriggers, painted in bright colours and bearing inscriptions from the bible, rested on the narrow beach and could be seen from far distant.

One afternoon, sitting on our veranda, we watched the fishermen go out on their outriggers.

The sea was calm, and schools of fish were intermittently breaking the surface of the water. It was quite a sight: an area of the otherwise placid ocean suddenly became turbulent and looked as if the water was boiling; some of the fish sprang into the air. In any one school, there might be hundreds of fish.

By this time, we were used to seeing this, but in the beginning, during our first days in The Philippines, it took us by surprise, especially when we were swimming and a large school of fish serviced near us.

We had swum in oceans in many countries including Australia, Cambodia, Croatia, Greece, India, Malaysia, Portugal, Spain, Sri Lanka and Tunisia – and never seen anything like it. 

Fact is, most of the world’s oceans have been depleted of their fish due to commercial and amateur fishing.


On this afternoon, there were several schools of fish which regularly swam en masse to the surface and then dived again; the churned-up areas appeared and re-appeared in different places. There was a storm on the way and it’s possible that the fish had come into the still waters closer to shore to feed, before the encroaching bad weather, when they would retreat to deeper water.

A group of the local fishermen, who had small motors on their outriggers and nets attached to the back of their boats, went out to try and take advantage of the situation. They puttered around, keening their eyes to see where the next school of fish might surface – and then head over there as fast as their little craft would allow them.

It was like a game of chasey.

None of the fishermen knew where the schools would surface.

They watched the water keenly and as soon as the water somewhere began to become ruffled, off they’d go, racing each other to get there.

Sometimes several areas began to swarm with fish at the same time and they’d head off in different directions.


Watching these fishermen in action, I thought of the times Anya and I had ridden our bikes in the coastal areas of The Netherlands and Denmark and seen fishing trawlers tied up in harbours: huge, high-tech machines worth millions of Euros, bristling with radar dishes, aerials, winches and cranes; above deck an observation tower, below deck, huge refrigerated holds. The men operating these machines were no doubt skilled in the use of the latest electronic gadgetry.

I let my thoughts run here for a bit.

Imagine taking two fishermen from here, I mused, and sending them to Europe to accompany a trawler on one of its runs out into the North Sea. Then, sending them back home accompanied by two European fishermen who could take a close look at fishing in the Philippines.

Then record the impressions of both lots of fishermen.

What a story that would be!

But I would never get to write it.

I could only use my imagination.


Plan B


After a stay in the hills in the south of the island of Negros, Anya and I went to the port at Dumaguete early in the morning to get the ferry to a small island called Siquijor. It was raining – heavy, tropical rain – and we got drenched in alighting from the auto-rickshaw and walking the short distance to the ticket office at the ferry terminal. Standing around, under umbrellas, was a big crowd of Filipinos. One of them told us the bad news: all ferry services to Siquijor had been suspended for at least 2 days. A tropical storm named ‘Tembin’ was moving across the Philippines further south. The day before, a ferry departing Quezon, in the north, had capsized in big waves; 4 people had drowned and 250 rescued; the incident had made the news services all over the world. The local coastguard, understandably feeling a bit jittery, wasn’t taking any chances.

The crowds of Filipinos standing around disconsolately, were foreign workers who had returned for the Christmas/New Year period to be with their families. The cancellation of the ferry services was a disaster for them. Many of them had decided to wait around for the day in the hope that at some point, the coastguard might change its mind and the ferry service be resumed. But given the circumstances, especially given the disaster from the day before, the chances of this occurring seemed slender.

Anya and I were left in a quandary.

We had booked 5 nights at a lodge on Siquijor, including Christmas Day.  Our problem was nothing compared to the Filipinos hoping to join their families for the festive season, but nevertheless we had to come up with a ‘plan B’.


A break in the rain came. We walked towards one of the bars we had seen during our ride in the rickshaw along the esplanade. We stopped at the first one we came to, asked if they served breakfast – which they did – and ordered omelettes and coffee. In the meantime, we began pondering our alternatives. Early that morning, when we got up at first light, it was with an expectation of how the day would unfold. Now everything was in flux.

Whilst waiting for our breakfast, I looked around me.

The bar was one of many in Dumaguete which was frequented at nights by elderly Caucasian men – mostly Americans with a smattering of Australians and British – who lived in or near Dumaguete and spent their days in the company of Filipino women and, drinking. On the wall behind the bar was a long list of the drinks available and their prices. It was easy to see why, if you liked a drink, that this was a good place to be (a glass of single malt whisky for example, cost the equivalent of 2 Euros)

Early on that rainy morning however, there was a lingering desolation about the place. Looking past the empty tables and chairs on the sidewalk, at the wet esplanade and the ferry boats lying at anchor on a sheet of grey sea – I was tempted to order a whisky myself. 


After breakfast, Anya and I got to work.

We cancelled our booking at the lodge on Siquijor, and then looked around for somewhere else to stay. A place on the coast of Negros and preferably not too far from Dumaguete was the most logical option.

Most of the places we found on the coast of Negros were full or exorbitantly expensive. That was hardly surprising but also, rather dispiriting. The glass of whisky entered my thoughts again.

Eventually Anya, who thankfully is a good deal more persistent than me, found a place which was on the beachfront, within our budget, and 20 kilometres away. We booked 4 nights, got a rickshaw to the bus station, then on a bus going down the coast followed by another rickshaw.


As the rickshaw turned off the busy main road and lurched down a long muddy track passed a riot of palm trees, ferns and creepers, I had a feeling that everything had turned out for the best.

That night, sitting on a balcony, the sound of waves breaking on the sand and palm fronds clattering in the wind, I was not sorry about the ferry service being suspended.

Plan B had worked out.

To live the unexpected – that is what it truly meant to travel.