Jed Nykolle Harme

AKLAN, Philippines – New Washington, a coastal municipality situated in the first district of Aklan, has gained popularity as a bustling hub for supplying oysters to numerous hotels in Metro Manila and provinces across the country.

While Aklan may not be hailed as the Seafood Capital of the Philippines, the oyster industry in this town is nothing short of remarkable. Even Roxas City, famed for its seafood, relies on Aklan for its oyster supply because of its briny and sweet flavor. 

Bert Macahilig, 25, a Talaba farmer, told us what sets Aklan's oyster apart is its export-quality oyster. 

"Ro taeaba riya sa New Washington hay kilaea gid dahil mabahoe, matam-is, ag malimpyo. Kung man-o kabahoe ro shell, makaron man ro sueod nga meat. Ag mahaba ro life span, tatlo hasta ap-at nga adlaw, kapin kung properly stored. Pag-abot sa Manila, eab-as gihapon," he said. 

(Oysters from New Washington are renowned for their size, sweetness, and cleanliness. Its meat is almost as big as its shell. With proper storage, their freshness can be maintained for 3-4 days, ensuring that when they arrive in Manila, they are still as fresh as when they were harvested.)

TECHNIQUE. Aklan uses the traditional method of cultivating oysters, where farmers staye young oysters and then submerge them in water. Photo Courtesy of Jed Nykolle Harme.

When asked about the difference in other provinces, Macahilig mentioned that it's because of their Brackish clean water. "Uwa-uwa gid ro taeaba it Roxas, bisan sanda ro Seafood Capital. Iya sanda gabuoe sa New Washington gihapon, dahil ro among tubi riya, malimpyo. Bukon it polluted," 

(Oysters in Roxas have no match in Aklan even if they are the Seafood capital. They still source their oysters here in New Washington, because our water is not polluted.)

Start Up

As a neophyte trader, Macahilig was merely observing the challenges of buying and selling fresh oysters, until he finally took the leap of growing and harvesting them himself.

"2nd year ako as entrepreneur student kato. Kita ko gid ro kalisod ni mama, ag si papa ron hay construction. Indi gid mag-igo para kamon. Nakabaton ako it P4000 nga scholarship halin sa province, hato ang ginpuhunan sa negosyo," he said as he mentioned that during that time, he’s happy to put it all in an oyster farm as an investment.

(As a second-year entrepreneurship student at the time, I observed the hardships of my mother and witnessed my father's challenges in construction work. It can't  make ends meet. So when I received a P4000 scholarship from the province, I made the decision to invest the entire amount as capital into my business venture.)

With his own startup trade business, Macahilig helped the needs of his family. His income mostly comes from the sale of his harvests.

He said, “Pagkahalin ko sa eskwelahan, mauuli ako sa bahay ng alas-6. Agad akong pupunta sa suba, doon hahanap ako ng bangka. Kahit malayo mula sa bahay, sinusugod ko pa rin. Minsan, hanggang alas-9 ng gabi pa ako nag-aani. Kinabukasan, idedeliver ko agad. Nakakapagod, pero sulit.”

(From school, I will get home at 6 PM. I will then go directly to my oyster farm. I borrowed a small fishing boat and rowed my oar through the water, even if it's far away from where I live. Sometimes, I'm still at the farm, harvesting at 9 PM. And the next day, I will deliver them. It's tiring, but it's worth it.)

Like any other commerce, oyster traders like Macahilig are also not immune to setbacks. In his case, it comes in the marketing of their naturally occurring seafood.

"Kalisod hay ro may kontrol ta it presyo hay ro buyers halin Manila. Kapin ro mga middle men, grabe mang-barat ag abusado bangud ro ibang mga magueang iya, uwa it tinun-an. Maw nga kaya nandang bue-on sa manaba nga presyo ro taeaba ag ibaligya nanda it P50 to P60 each oyster sa andang hotel. Ro ginaisip eat-ah abi it mga farmers hay may ibakae sanda it suea ag pamasahe ku andang mga unga paagto sa skwelahan,"

(It's challenging because the buyers from Manila control the prices. The middlemen are the worst, especially for the elderly farmers who lack education. They buy the oysters at low prices and sell them to their hotels for P50 to P60 each. The farmers are left with little choice but to use the earnings to buy food and cover their children's school transportation costs.)

Growing and harvesting oysters have become a way of life for many farmers in New Washington. The farmers plant their oysters for two months in their nursery, and transplant it to their growing farm. They will then harvest and sell it after seven months.

YOUNG FARMER. Bert Cahilig shows what it's like to harvest Aklan's oysters attached to old tires. Photo Courtesy of Jed Nykolle Harme.

"Mabuhay ro proseso pero sulit nga mayad. Nakabakae ako it sariling baroto namon. Habayran ko ro eugta it amon nga baeay. Nakabakae pa gid kami it pwesto sa suba. Ag makaron, nagdugang ako it bangus as business," 

(The process is long, but it's all worth it. I bought our own fishing boat. I managed to pay for our lot. I acquired another farm in the river. And now, I added Milk fish to the business.)

Right now, Macahilig is supplying oysters in the local markets. He is also transporting Aklan's oysters weekly in five restaurants and hotels in Metro Manila with a profit of P20 per kilogram. He also led farmers in their town to export 2000 kilograms of oysters in Taiwan recently.

Life and Livelihood

Roberto Macahilig, 55, a father of five, has been an oyster farmer for more than half of his age. He said that their harvest is better in rainy seasons. 

"Mas maeamig, mas mabahoe, manami, ag quality ro taeaba riya. Kung mainit abi hay gataas ro salinity it tubi, kaisot rayon ro taeaba ag mabuhay mag-abo," he said. 

(In colder seasons, oysters tend to be larger and possess better quality taste. In hotter weather, the salinity of the water increases, leading to stunted growth and slower reproduction of oysters.)

Roberto said that there are also thefts in the rivers. "Natatakawan man kami riya. Pagkatapos namon itanom it 7 buean, kung inug harvest eon, uwa eot-ah it sueod ro among mga kariton. Ubos gid ah nanda it buoe, lugi kami nga mayad,"

(We also experienced having our oysters robbed. After planting them for 7 months, when the time to harvest came, there was nothing left to gather. The thieves even took our tires. It was a significant loss for us.)

Through oyster farming, Roberto, along with his wife, managed to see three of their children earn their degree. 

"Hara eon among pangabuhian umpisa pa kato. Swerte kami ay malimpyo ro among suba ag bantog ro among taeaba sa ibang lugar. Responsable pa ro mga tawo riya kaya uwa gid nasasamad ro quality it among taeaba. Ag maswerte ako sang mga unga hay bisan may mga propesyonal eon sanda, gabalik gihapon sa kung siin kami naghalin. Palangga nanda ro mga taeaba riya, parehas man ku unga it iba ng farmers iya sa sa among lugar." he said. 

(This has been our life and livelihood ever since. We consider ourselves fortunate that our river remains clean and our oysters are well-known in other areas. The community takes responsibility for the environment, which helps maintain the quality of our oysters. I feel blessed with my children, as despite all being professionals, they still return to where we came from. They share a love for farming, much like the other children of oyster farmers in our town.)