A CHINESE proverb states, and I quote, “Give a man fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him a lifetime.” I have been figuratively connecting this to other aspects in life. But this time, I relate the proverb literally to fishing.
My first trip outside the country was unexpected and exhausting but very worthwhile. It was NOT leisure. It was a seven (7)-day tour of (practically entire) South Korea – from Seoul to Busan to Jeju Island—via plane, bus and feet-- to learn about this country’s fishing industry.
A backtrack on how this educational tour came about. Early this year, Mayor of the Municipality of Cordova, Cebu, Mary Therese P. Sitoy-Cho and husband Charlie Cho, invited Im Kweon Kim, President and Chairman of the Korean National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives (Cooperative) to visit the town, observe its fishing activities, and solicit from Mr. Kim, inputs on how the fishermen in the town can improve their catch. Fishing, by the way, is one of the major economic activities in Cordova.
Apparently, Chairman Kim wanted to do more than share inputs, as an invitation from the Cooperative for a delegation from Cordova to visit some of its member-cooperatives in the Republic of Korea (ROK) came few months after his visit.
Being the municipality’s consultant on information, tourism, economic and investment promotions, I was invited to join the group, together with the Mayor herself, four of the town’s Sanggunian Bayan members, three municipal department heads and 10 leaders of fishermen's organizations in Cordova. It was an all-expense paid by the Cooperative.
During the one-week trip, we practically hopped from hotel to hotel (not exactly five-stars but business class, if I may say so), eat from restaurant to restaurant (actually Korean food), fly twice within the country and was served full-time by VIP tourist buses. I’m not really good with numbers, but based on the experience, I can say the expenses were substantial.
I highly admire how this Cooperative of fishermen takes care of all its member-fishermen; and I mean all--regardless of the size or fleet of the fishing vessels they own.
To start with, the Cooperative has a high-tech Telecommunications Center in Incheon, which keeps track of all these vessels sailing on the waters of SOK. (I’m also no tekky, so please indulge me with this layman’s observation)
The center has a huge real-time digital map of the waters within the jurisdiction of SOK with spot-like red lights signifying the location of these fishing vessels. When a vessel is in distress, it sends out signal (that’s when the red light starts to blink) to the tower and the Federation immediately deploys help. When the tower smells that something is not right within the area, especially the tendency to enter the waters of North Korea, it sends out a signal to the vessels for them to go back to shore.
If I am the fisherman in those vessels and I know that someone has my back, then my only concern is just how to catch more fishes from the ocean and how to sell these to the market.
But then, the Cooperative takes care of the market too. All these fishing vessels dock and bring their catch directly at the markets owned by the cooperative.
We were able to observe the early morning activities (one at a time, of course) in the Noryangin Fish Market in Seoul, Busan Cooperative Market, and Halim Fish Market in Jeju Island.
A fish auction happens every day (at around 6:00 in the morning) wherein wholesalers bid for the fishes. No middlemen. We all know what some of these middlemen do.
After the bidding and the selling, the Cooperative gathers the “unwanted” catch and buys them. These are processed to freeze and are sold to National Government Agencies, which are “mandated” to buy their fish needs from the Cooperative.
A very impressive system. No fish is put to waste, and, most importantly, no fisherman’s hard work is left unpaid for. I feel that most of the fishermen I crossed path with in SOK has HIGH RESPECT for himself and for the job; and this is what a FISHERMAN and the COMMUNITY must have for the FISHING profession.
At the end of every day of that seven-day trip, my respect for the fishing industry heightened. I realized how this industry, if prioritized and provided with much-needed support like knowledge and technology, can bring so much abundance to a fisherman’s life, his family and the country.
Yes, my “K-pop” experience may taught me only a few Korean words—annyeong haseyo (hello); pali-pali (faster); and gamsahamnida (thank you)—which I still have difficulty to pronounce, but it has stirred an advocacy in me. A dream that the same system of the Cooperative be established in the Philippines so that our small-time fishermen will not only be “given” fish for the day but will be taught “how” to fish to feed him, his family and the country.