THESE MEN DIVE UP TO 40 METRES FOR FISH WITH NOTHING BUT A HOSEPIPE TO KEEP THEM ALIVE
Pa'aling is perhaps the most dangerous method of fishing on
earth. Compressor diving - where air is pumped through flimsy plastic
hosepipes to divers under the surface - is common throughout the Coral
Triangle, but Pa'aling is practised exclusively in the Philippines,
predominantly around the island of Palawan in the western Philippines.
The difference is in the number of divers and the method. Pa'aling sees
scores of divers descending together amidst a tangle of breathing tubes
and manoeuvring nets over huge shoals of fish, mostly skipjack tuna.
Serious injuries and death are all too common. Usually four fishing
boats are used, all equipped with rusty compressor engines and each
carrying around 25 divers. There have been numerous reports of child
labour connected to pa'aling fishing. Pa'aling is tolerated by the
authorities, because it replaced an even more destructive fishing method
known as muro-ami, where rocks attached to large nets are repeatedly
smashed into coral reefs to scare fish out and into the waiting net.
Pa'aling is still practiced in some
parts of the Philippines - up to 100 divers supported by four boats -
will go down together, corralling fish - usually tuna - into huge nets.
They breath regular air pumped down from the surface by an old on board
This diver is relatively lucky in that
he has a wetsuit. Most pa'aling divers wear regular shirts and leggings
and perhaps a balaclava. Rudimentary fins are carved out of wood and
divers often wear homemade wooden goggles in the absence of a proper
There are virtually no safety measures
on pa'aling fishing vessels and hardly any real understanding of what
causes the bends, so divers will often spend far too long at depth
without taking safety stops on the way back up. These thin tubes are
their only lifeline - but they can also be a death sentence if too many
nitrogen bubbles build up in the blood stream. Thousands have bee
crippled or killed.
Not only is Pa'aling dangerous for
fishers, it is thought to decimate fish stocks and is a completely
non-selective method. Yet it is preferable to muro-ami, which actively
destroys reefs, so the Philippines government allows it as it is central
to many people's livelihoods and a ban could cause massive
Cheap, thin plastic hose of the kind
that is used to water gardens is the divers' only lifeline to the
surface. The smallest tear or even kink in the hose can cause death.
Pa'aling fishers actively use the air bubbles to create a curtain which flushes fish out and into the waiting net.
Pa'aling usually takes place out in
the open ocean, far from any kind of medical help. So if a diver
succumbs to the bends, there is no hope for them.
Pa'aling fishers often find themselves
within the confines of the net itself as the struggle to manoeuvre it
around obstacles and over the fish. This can sometimes prove deadly.
Decades old engines like this rusty specimen are the only things keeping the divers alive, pumping air down from the surface.
Pa'aling often involves a number of boats with scores of divers on each, who together 'herd' fish into the waiting net.
Divers rarely have prooper mask and
must rely on hand carved wooden goggles with regular glass fitted in
them. They do not even have regulators - the hose must be gripped firmly
between the lips whilst carrying out complicated and sometimes
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