Magtahong ay ‘di biro: What it’s like to be a mussel farmer

The cultivation of mussels (tahong) in the country started in Bacoor Bay in the towns of Bacoor and Kawit in Cavite. Operations were generally small-farm and family business. Glenda Hingada, a tahong farmer for 15 years from Kawit, shares how hard it is to cultivate mussels and how it provides livelihood to many fishermen and their families.

Mussel farming is one of the most promising industries among many forms of aquaculture in the Philippines. The cultivation of mussels (tahong) in the country actually began in Bacoor and in Kawit in the province of Cavite. This provides livelihood to many fishermen and their families from these two towns.

Mussel farmer Glenda Hingada is sitting at the bow of a boat which is painted pink for it to be identified that she is a mussel farmer from Kawit. 

Glenda Hingada, a mother of four, is a tahong farmer for more than a decade now. She started selling tahong 15 years ago when her husband, a carpenter, struggled to earn enough money to support the needs of their children.

“Syempre, kapag isa o dalawang araw na hindi nakakapagtrabaho ang asawa mo, kulang na ang budget para sa isang linggo,” said Glenda as she shared how poverty pushed her to venture into this industry.

According to Glenda, mussel farming is not easy. It requires patience, techniques, and hard work. With so many factors to consider such as the weather, water temperature, salinity, and the geophysical site, the process becomes much more difficult.

Mussel farmer Glenda Hingada is holding a net as she demonstrates how they harvest mussels from a part of Bacoor Bay.

As a neophyte trader, Glenda had to learn the ropes of the business first. In the beginning, she was merely observing the challenges of buying and selling fresh tahong until she finally took the leap of growing and harvesting them herself. 

“Nanalo ako sa Sugod-Bahay ng Eat Bulaga noong 2015. Ginamit ko yung napanalunan ko bilang puhunan sa negosyo,” she said as she mentioned that during that time, she’s happy to put her prize in tahong farm as an investment.

With her own start up business, Glenda instantly became the breadwinner in her family. Her income mostly comes from the sale of her harvests. 

A small hut in the middle of Bacoor Bay where watchmen stay to guard their mussel farms. 

But just like any other commerce, mussel traders are also not immune to setback. In their case, it comes in the form of water pollution and red tide that affect the growth of the naturally occurring seafood.

As water pollution knows no boundary, the waters of Bacoor and Cavite City are no exception to the poor waste management of the Manila Bay.

Moreover, the POGO Island has disrupted the operation of oyster and mussel farms.

“Yung POGO Island din, nalugi kami ng sobra dahil dinemolish nila ang ilang farm dito,” Glenda said. “Pero bilang negosyante, hindi mo iisipin yung lugi. Magsisimula ka ulit, kasi kung magiging negative tayo sa buhay, hindi talaga tayo aasenso. Tuloy lang dapat.”

In her free days, mussel farmer Glenda Hingada spends some to bond with her family in their farm. 

Growing and harvesting mussels have become a way of life for many farmers including Glenda and her family. Every weekend, she, her husband and all their children bond over planting and harvesting tahong in their farm in Cavite City.

Mussel farmer Glenda Hingada takes a seflie with a fish trap where mussels are being raised for a few months before being harvested. 

“Mabilis ang pera dito basta masipag ka lang. Kahit yung mga anak ko, sanay ‘yan.” Glenda said.

Seeing how her children are enjoying it, Glenda is certain that they will continue what she has started when the time comes that she needs to retire from it.

“Kahit professional na ang panganay kong babae, gustong-gusto pa rin no’n na sumama sa dagat para sumisid,” said Glenda. 

Amid the pandemic, Glenda’s family is still able to meet their ends because of mussel farming. In fact, she shared that their family’s income from this business improved during the lockdown.

“Mahal na kasi ang karne ngayon, gusto na ng tao ang mas mura kaya mas mabili ang tahong at talaba.”

At the end of the day, Glenda is grateful that she is able to put food in the table by doing something which her family could bond over.

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