Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Traditional but Vanishing Isinay Method of Catching River Fish

ON ANOTHER trip to my hometown a couple of weeks ago, I had chance to take close-up photos of a method of catching fish that used to be common in the rivers of Dupax and many towns of Nueva Vizcaya when I was young. Here's one of the shots I took:

The enclosed middle part of the river on the left was made shallow by the putting up of a dike made of stones, plastic sheets, and sand to divert the stream flow. This method is called "seyup" and has been employed since time immemorial by Isinays to catch a wide range of river fish, shrimps, crabs, and shells. March 20, 2012 photo by charlz castro

Those of you who lived close to shallow and stony rivers before would be familiar or may have in fact tried this fishing method that, depending on how fish-rich the river is, is a sure-fire way of getting protein from Mother Nature during family picnics or group outings by the river.

No rocket science, no high-tech hydro-engineering, nor even a technical course on fishery is needed for this.

Called seyup in Isinay and sarep in Ilocano, it simply involves closing a part of the stream and diverting the water's flow to other parts.

For tools, use mainly the stones, gravel, sand, and driftwood you would find in the river. Pile these materials in the form of a dike running across the stream, then fortify their water-barricading intent by adding banana leaves or sheaths and seal other entry points with clayey soil. If available, use plastic sheets or woven bamboo slats to make the dike more efficient.

The target result would be to make the downstream part of the dammed portion go "waterless" or shallow as in a "low tide" for a while and the makeshift dike/dam to hold fort, giving you enough leverage and time to be able to catch with bare hands the water-dwelling creatures that would be stranded.

Depending on how effective you are at barricading the stream and redirecting its flow, in a couple of hours or so you would be able to literally scoop out fish, crabs, shrimps, shells, frogs, tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, leeches, and other river denizens.

WHEN I FIRST caught glimpse of the river with its tell-tale signs of the seyup pictured above, there was a little pain inside me at remembering not only the fishing technology but also how once upon a time this same river was my playground, friend, and food provider all rolled into one.

The people, the swimming holes, the fish, and the remnant forests associated with the river are gone now. But memories of my family always having fun using this river and the fishing technology when I was young are still alive.

Indeed, the seyup or sarep was our collective way of catching fish and enjoying the river every summer, particularly Huebes Santo or Sabado de Gloria, when my part of the Pudiquet and Castro families would go to I-iyo.

My Apong Pedro and my Uncle Atong always seemed to know which part of this river and the ones upstream had plenty of stone goby (sappilan in Isinay, bunog in Ilocano, biyang-bato in Tagalog). Summer or not, it didn't take long before those fish-rich parts would have fiesta-like atmosphere.

I recall there was always my grandmother, along with my mother and aunts, picking edible fern by the riverbank or cooking upland rice in three-stone stoves, while we kids would be shouting with glee at catching our first tiny fish, or scaring one another with a blood-fattened leech (bilavil in Isinay, alinta in Ilocano, linta in Tagalog).

I remember my father had a tulda (canvas) that he always brought each time we would have such occasions to  maneyup (to make seyup). I don't know where he got this item (along with the binoculars, canteen can, green army blanket that used to be part of our household items when I was young), but that piece of canvas was often the front-liner, so to speak, when the water got difficult to dam.

THERE IS, HOWEVER, one event that stands out in my earliest recollections of the seyup technology.

It happened one summer time my playmates in I-iyo and I took our daily digos-uwak (literally "a crow's bath", or bathing quickly without using soap, rubbing stone, towel, etc.) in this river and, just for fun, found ourselves making a sarep using rice hay (garami in Ilocano, nangili-an in Isinay, dayami in Tagalog) plus stones and sand as dam material.

In other words, we played, nay, stayed too long in the river as the make-believe sarep soon became a real thing and the short strings of bunog we each caught became longer and longer and the bamboo tubes we used as container for shrimps were spilling.

Yes, my friends and I didn't get a scolding from our elders as our respective fish catches gave us good excuse for not doing our carabao-tending, corn-husking or maya-scaring chores well that sunny day.

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