Monday, September 22, 2008

Janitor fish: The new Marikeño cuisine?

While we environmental scientists are interested mainly on the natural science aspects of the environment, we work with people and local communities. Since we wanted to know how people view this alien fish in their river, we asked them what they thought and knew about it.

Residents of Marikina City a.k.a Marikeños are proud that their river still has fish in it. However it is a fish species they don't want. The older citizens (those born before and during the 1950s) still remember a clear fast flowing stream with a sandy silty bottom covered with submerged plants. Amongst these plants were eels "palos", mudfish "dalag" and native catfish "hito" and the now extirpated Therapon "ayungin". Today the only food fish most people could catch is the introduced Tilapia, that is if they are lucky.

Marikina is probably the only city in Metro Manila that still has an inland fishery. One can observe fishermen casting their nets and recreational fishers with their rods and reels. But as one fisher told me, they only catch janitor fish.

While shoes made Marikina famous, the big question on every Marikeño's mind is what to do with the fish that made their city infamous. There have been suggestions that to make them into shoes and bags since their skin is tough enough to make leather. But this idea is dead on the river since the influx of cheap imports has put the Marikina shoe industry in peril. We don't have a politician now who promotes locally made shoes. Mrs Marcos was probably the last!

Interestingly ideas on what to do with the fish seem to be correlated with the city's socio-economic profile. The old rich who live on the river near the Riverbanks park, wouldn't touch the fish much more eat it. For them it is a symbol of how the residents ruined their river. In more middle class Concepcion and Malanday, the folks touch it but couldn't imagine eating it unless as one grandmother told me "if the Japanese invaded their town again" Then she recounted her life as a child during the Japanese occupation where they were forced to eat food that no red blooded Marikeño would dare eat before the war. Marikina then as now was famed for food and cuisine that can only be had in their city. My boss who is from the town knows all the restos that made her city famous.

In these more middle class districts, we also found a group of kids who want to be one of us, scientists! Paging DOST, there is still hope! These kids are aware of environmental issues. Their teacher told us about their environmental education efforts.

Further upstream in Tumana where people are more economically disadvantaged, people volunteered their janitor fish recipes for us! We were told of various ways of preparing the fish and someone has a Thai inspired recipe for it! Maybe this is the true Marikeño spirit. They can make something as seeminly useless as this fish into something useful (and more appealing)! After all, who would think this town would make a big hit out of shoes?

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