Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Philippines: Eradicating the Marikina River’s Fish Menace
September 2006

Marikina City’s river is on the verge of an ecological imbalance as a strange species of fish dominates its ecosystem. The growing fish population has prompted the city government to launch a new program to control their number. Local fisherfolk and a teenage scientist have found some solutions. FISHING EXPEDITIONS Boyet Cazar, a resident of the town of Santo Niño situated along the Marikina River’s banks, used to sell the day’s catch in the public market and bring the rest home for his family to eat. Today, all he catches are the strange-looking janitor fish that now infests the river’s waters and competes with other fish for food—much to the latter’s detriment. Boyet is one of many residents taking part in “Oplan Alis Janitor Fish” (Operation Plan Eradicate the Janitor Fish), a local government project that attempts to find ways of ridding the river of the fish menace. Launched in 2005, the project offers to pay 20 centavos to residents for every janitor fish they catch. Estimates show that the ratio of the number of janitor fish to other species in the river these days is around 10 to 1, causing much dismay and frustration to Marikina fisher folks. With the use of large fishing nets, Boyet and other village officials haul in thousands of janitor fish every day in an attempt to restore the river’s ecological balance. The day’s catch are placed in mini-dump trucks and transported to the mountainous town of Montalban in nearby Rizal province, where they are buried to conceal the foul smell and fertilize the soil. SOMETHING FISHY Up until the late 1990s, the Marikina River was teeming with several freshwater fish species such as tilapia, carp, catfish, and mudfish. Golden apple snails also thrived on the river’s banks. Now, the janitor fish, once alien to these waters, is wreaking havoc on the river’s ecosystem.

A relative of the South American catfish, the prehistoriclooking janitor fish was introduced in the country by aquarium enthusiasts. It earned its name by feeding on algae, moss, and grime growing on the glass surface of aquariums. It has a hard exoskeleton, is smelly like other fish, and is not considered fit for human consumption. How it was introduced in the Marikina River has been the subject of much speculation. The janitor fish, which grows up to 30 centimeters long, does not pose any direct threat to people and other fish, according to scientists. However, they multiply rapidly and eat voraciously, competing with other fish for food. Without the presence of natural predators, the janitor fish in the Marikina River grew in huge numbers. They eat the eggs of other fishes, causing the depletion of other fish species in the local aquatic environment. They also cause the river’s sides to erode as they bore holes on the soft, muddy banks to serve as their breeding nests, damaging much of the river’s plant life. BIOFUEL POTENTIAL A discovery by sixteen-year old Raymond Joseph Amurao may further help the Marikina City government in solving the fish situation. A student of the Marikina Science High School, Raymond discovered that oil extracted from the janitor fish could be used to make biofuel. Raymond said it was his mother Janet, a chemistry teacher, who introduced him and his classmates to the janitor fish. Janet is a member of the Oplan Alis Janitor Fish committee organized by the city government. The young scientist said he had his ‘eureka moment’ when, while boiling janitor fish meat to turn into chicken feed, he noticed that a considerable amount of oil had accumulated in the water. Instead of throwing it away, he tried to find use for it. He first sought to turn it into a lubricant, but it solidified after being subjected to high heat. He then tried mixing the oil with other chemicals to produce soap, but only had partial success because it still smelled like fish. Then, while surfing the Internet, he learned that oil extracted from certain animals could be used as biodiesel. Another experiment later and he found that the fish’s greasy by-product indeed had biofuel potential.

Raymond’s school entered his experiment in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Indiana, United States in May 2006, where he won third place in the zoology category and a cash prize of US$1,000. “The biodiesel derived from the janitor fish could be used as an additive to diesel fuel, and could help lower the cost of petroleum in the Philippines,” says Raymond. It would also help control the janitor fish population in the Marikina River, Laguna Lake, and other bodies of water where it is known to dwell. “This could also become a great source of livelihood in Marikina,” he beamed. HOOK, LINE AND SINKER With support from the Marikina City mayor and the government’s Laguna Lake Development Authority, Raymond sees his janitor fish biofuel innovation becoming commercially viable within 2 years’ time. Raymond’s schoolmates have also been seeking other probable uses for the janitor fish. One possibility is to use the exoskeleton from the fish’s belly as leather to boost Marikina’s shoe industry. The janitor fish could also be useful in producing carbonated water, liquid fertilizer, and chicken feed. Raymond will soon test his biofuel invention on a car engine.

_______________________________ Based on the article of Ed Hagamann, Asia Water Wire journalist The views expressed in this article are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with ADB official terms. *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in September 2006: http://www.adb.org/water/actions/PHI/marikina-river.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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