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November 10, 2016

FISH TALES

Let me share with you some fish tales and why Danggit have no eyes or sometimes have holes.

As I was eating my favorite “danggit” at breakfast in a five-star hotel, I thought to myself, “I wonder how big this fish can get?”

Usually we see these dried fish and we never really give it much thought on how they are caught, how big they could get, how sustainable they are.

Luckily I had a meeting the same morning with a wonderful lady, Dhang Tecson, who supplies ECHOstore with dried fish happily named Darling Danggit and Papa Pusit (their monicker for dried squid). All I knew about this product was that it’s clean, sustainable, and that it helped the victims of Haiyan back in 2013.

The author with Dhang Tecson

The author with Dhang Tecson

Well, guess what? There are more stories about these fish and Dhang was kind enough to tell me the journey which the fish takes from Bantayan Island, Cebu to our shelves in Makati.

Dhang and a few other volunteers of an erstwhile Gawad Kalinga (GK) project started the journey back in 2014. But since Bantayan apparently was really not a typical GK site, they thought that it may be better off doing its own social enterprise with fisherfolk and some enterprising youth whose hearts were golden like Dhang’s.

A Nursing graduate from Lyceum of the Philippines and who is now a Registered Nurse (RN), she always had her heart in Community Service. She comes from good stock. Both parents are from the Couples for Christ movement and she grew up seeing her folks helping the poor (Talk about values formation!).

chit-juan-fish-tales-bantayan-fisherfolk-4-2016nov11Dhang would then volunteer for GK as a Community Health Nurse and soon became employed to “build communities”. But when she learned of the Bantayan fisherfolk’s life, something ticked in her heart and she never left them since.

The journey starts with each fish, yes every fish being “speared” by the fisherman. They are then collected as the day’s catch, gutted, and cleaned by the fishermen’s wives and then dried in clean solar dryers already built by Dhang’s group and the townspeople.

chit-juan-fish-tales-bantayan-fisherfolk-2016nov11These fish never see any other flavoring—not even added salt or anything else. It’s just the pure flavor of the sea and the heat of the sun that’s why it’s all-natural. These dried fish are then packaged by Dhang’s group, after of course, paying the fisherfolk double of market price.

The youthful volunteers gathered friends in advertising, graphic design, and marketing to design packaging that tried to say it all: the story, the source, and the people behind the project. Customers at their now 30 outlets nationwide (including ECHOstore Cebu and ECHOstore Davao) first get a little surprised at the price which is really more premium than the usual dried fish wrapped in old newspaper and cheap plastic wrap. This one’s got class! Well-meaning and kind-hearted balikbayans and tourists take them to faraway places around the globe. I brought some to my friend Susan in Peru, the last time I visited her. My sister brings for her friends in Germany.

The difference is clear: Balangay’s Best is Slow Fish. It is good, (tastes good and is whiter than most over-salted ones), clean (never touched by insects or bugs) and fair (fisherfolk are paid double of market price). And rather than enjoying it just in five-star hotel’s breakfast buffet, I can actually fry it in the comforts of home.

chit-juan-fish-tales-bantayan-fisherfolk-3-2016nov11Dried fish are looked down upon as the poor man’s food. But guess what? The fisherfolk do not even eat their fish, so they can sell all their catch and then buy white rice. What an irony. All that freshness goes out to customers and the fisherfolk in turn are able to eat other food which are not as good for the body as what they caught. Dhang tells me their real treat is eating meat (obviously a rare find in the island) so at one Christmas party she and her partners brought a whole lechon!

I was envious of the bounty available to these unknowing lucky folks, and they think we in the city are blessed? We have to contend with farmed fish while they could eat deep sea fish! Such is life.

chit-juan-fish-tales-rare-info-2016nov11Today, she is happy that an NGO called RARE and other advocates of Sustainable Seafood have reached out to give their young enterprise more sites to replicate what was done at Bantayan. Soon, RARE project sites in Surigao, Mindoro, and Negros Oriental will also be developed by F&C Inc (Fishers and Changemakers Inc) a social enterprise that she and her friends, along with four fishermen, registered with a modest authorized capital stock of P500,000 and a paid up capital of only P200,000. See how a small amount can make a huge difference?

The group engages the community in Values Formation and in the rules of Sustainable Fishing. No nets are ever used in catching fish because the small fry need to still grow. The fish are taken as they always did, one fish at a time. They observe the seasons because every species has its own time for allowing to be caught.

Besides Values Formation, they also are sensitive to cultural nuances like some cultures removing the fish eyes because they never eat them, some remove the head and dry it headless. This sensitivity to diversity and cultural differences makes the project even more special.

Founders of Balangay's Best

Founders of Balangay’s Best

Dhang beams as she tells me of the new variants they will soon launch such as Mommy Dilis, Babay Bangsi, and even bottled sardines. She travels to the project site by boat for about two hours after flying into Cebu. There they have nothing but Nature’s bounty. But she is so enthused to keep going after seeing the impact the enterprise has brought to the fisherfolk, in faraway islets such as Bantayan.

chit-juan-fish-tales-bantayan-fisherfolk-2-2016nov11I will never look at Danggit the same way again.

 

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