SAMKI: Preserving the Art of Sustainable Fishing

In honor of #WorldOceanDay and #SeaTurtleWeek this month, we are spotlighting one of our steadfast partners for our environmental initiatives—our local fishing communities. Located in nearby villages scattered around El Nido, they bring tremendous value to our organization and to the local environment through their sustainable practices and way of life. 

To kick off our month-long series about our fishing partners, we are first highlighting Samahan ng mga Mangingisda ng Kiminawit (SAMKI), translating to the Association of Fishermen from Kiminawit. Nestled in a cove outside of the nearby Bacuit Bay in Sitio Kiminawit, this fishing organization was formed in 2010 with the goal of improving the lives of its 98 members. 

When the fishermen go out to sea, they typically fish from 7:00 in the evening until dawn, with the waters illuminated only by the light of lanterns used to lure squid towards the boat. The brighter the lantern, the larger the catch, with catches during the squid season ranging from 2 to 20 kilograms a night or up to 100 kilograms of fish during the fish season. 

A two- to three-hour car ride or one-hour boat ride from downtown El Nido brings you Sitio Kiminawit, where the fishermen of SAMKI call home.

SAMKI fishermen traditionally employ bottom fishing, which involves lowering a baited hook to the bottom of the sea that can easily be unhooked from any of the protected coral in the area, making it one of the only legal methods of fishing in the waters of El Nido. This keeps the coral reefs healthy and intact, which in turn helps provide the fish with shelter. This sustainable form of fishing is in stark contrast to the dynamite used by illegal fishers who seek only to increase profits and have no regard for the immense destruction of coral reefs by their fishing methods. Dynamite fishers can haul over eight times the fish a SAMKI fisher can, and with the continued devastation to the corals causing fish populations to dwindle, the threat to the main source of income for the fishermen of Kiminawit is all too real. 

While there are challenges facing this community, partnering with the Ten Knots Group has provided substantial benefits. Since 2013, SAMKI fishermen have been employed to take guests staying at the island resorts on fishing excursions, providing a valuable stream of income as they can make more in a few hours than from a day of fishing. This activity is loved by guests who enjoy learning and practicing the traditional bottom fishing methods and experiencing the beautiful waters of El Nido that could only be brought by those native to the islands.  

SAMKI’s partnership with Ten Knots was recently featured in a BBC Earth documentary on El Nido titled “From Hooks to Books.”

The fishermen often recount stories of memorable guests, such as one visitor who dropped their phone into the water. Just when the tourist had written it off as a travel expense and exclaimed that they would never see it again, they watched in awe as a SAMKI fisher dove off the side of the boat into the deep water and resurfaced a moment later, smiling and phone in hand.  

Beyond the economic benefits generated from their partnership, the fisherfolk appreciate the cultural exchange attained through their interactions with guests. As Mariano Valledor, president of SAMKI, explained to us in a video call, since Kiminawit is so far from El Nido town, tourist activities don’t typically reach their town. Even though Valledor admits he would gladly spend his entire life living in the Philippines and only speaking Tagalog, he says he has gained the ability to interact with different cultures and is immensely proud of the English words he has picked up while working with foreigners. 

A SAMKI fisherman instruct a guest on the traditional practice of bottom fishing during the Fishing with the Community activity offered by the island resorts.

Sadly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three trips a day that the fisherfolk typically ran for the resort’s guests have been temporarily halted. Even so, the fishermen eagerly look forward to the day they will be again called upon to engage with travelers. 

Although the current pandemic has temporarily altered our partnership, SAMKI remains a valued organization not only for the Ten Knots Group but for the environment around them. 

Izzy George is a rising junior at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. majoring in Science, Technology, and International Affairs. Originally from North Carolina, USA, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and backpacking in her free time. In the future, she hopes to unlock the synergies between sustainable resource management and economic development to address challenges surrounding food security, gender equity, and climate change.

Carsten Schoer is an International Business and Finance major at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. On campus, he is part of Zeeba Investment Fund and the Compass Fellowship among other organizations. With a passion for social impact, DEI, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability, Carsten strives to improve any environment he finds himself in.

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