Jed Nykolle Harme

Jawili Beach in Tangalan, Aklan is known for its local character: a long stretch of white sand beach with shallow waters. While it has become a destination away from the crowds, it is in this barangay where tourists can buy dried fish pasalubong in Aklan.

Dried fish in Jawili has a distinct taste that sets it apart from other dried fish products in nearby provinces, according to locals. Their best seller 'Dilis,' is not too salty. This is because they only use fresh seawater for washing, and refrain from adding extra salt, making it a perfect pasalubong in town.

"Hinahanap-hanap ‘yan ng mga turista dito sa Aklan, kasi hindi maalat ang mga tuyo namin dito. Masarap daw, kumpara sa iba," said Myrlyn Cidar, 44, a seasoned dried fish seller in Jawili.

They sell various dried products, including fish, shrimp, and squid, each with different flavors. Prices range from P50 to P1,200 per kilogram, depending on your preferred product.

Small fishing boats and bamboo nets dot the shores of this village, where fishing serves as the primary livelihood for many fishermen and their families.

Antonio Fernandez, 48, has been a fisherfolk in Tangalan for almost 40 years now. He started really young, when his parents struggled to earn enough money to support the needs of their family. 

As the only man with three sisters, he has to learn the waves of life to survive, even if it means paddling with danger. "Pitong beses eon ako naeunod una sa eawod. Ro pinakaulihi hay ku Disyembre, tumakeob ang baroto sa kabaskog it humbak, haanod man ako sa pampang it Jawili pagkatapos it pilang oras." 

(I have drowned in the sea seven times. The most recent incident was in December last year when my boat sank due to a surge of waves. I was later found in Jawili beach after a few hours.)

Antonio said he had no choice but to chase the coasts, even if it wasn't the life he dreamed of. "Unga pat-ang gasunod sa eawod kato, hay di ka man kapili sing pwede ubrahon. Kinahang-ean magbulig ka sing ginakanan. Kung indi, uwa kami it kan-on,"

(I was still young when I had to come to the sea to catch fish, because I had no other option. I had to help my parents, because if not, we would not be able to eat.)

Antonio, along with other fisherfolk in Tangalan, use small motorized boats to go fishing. They usually start at 4 pm and will come back around 7 am the next day. A good catch, he said, is around 50 kilograms of Anchovy, for 15 hours of work. 

He mentioned that he also used to venture into the waters of Romblon or Mindoro from Aklan to catch Tuna. However, many of his friends lost their lives in the process, so he chose not to continue with it.

"Malisod ro kabuhi iya. Uwa ako naila nga raya ro madangatan sa akong mga unga man sa ulihi. Kaya bisan delikado, gahutuhot kami sang asawa nga mapatapos sanda tanan, agud indi sanda matugpa iya eang sa baybay,"

(Life is so tough here. I don't want my children to experience the same hardship. That's why, despite all the dangers, my wife and I work tirelessly to ensure they earn their degrees, so that their future will not be anchored to the sea.)

NETS. Fisherfolk Antonio Fernandez crafts his own bamboo frames with nets for drying fish. Photo Courtesy of Jed Nykolle Harme.

Limelyn Fernandez, 48, a mother of four, has been assisting his husband Antonio for 21 years. It is Limelyn who dries the fish and sells it to make ends meet.

She shared that they attempted to leave their life as a fisherfolk when they got married in 1997. Both of them worked in a shoe factory in Laguna. However, they had to return to Jawili in 2003 because their jobs couldn't support their needs. It was then that they realized life in the Metro was more challenging than life at sea.

Limelyn said that for every 50 kilograms of Anchovy, they can produceup to 13 kilograms of Dilis after 2-3 days of sun drying. It is there where they can make a profit of P500 to P600. Not enough to support the needs of her children. 

"Minsan, may mga kasama pa akong tumutulong ding magbilad ng dilis. Kaya yung P500 na kita, paghahatian pa namin," she said. 

(Sometimes, I also have companions who help with drying fish, so that P500 profit, we still have to divide it among us.)

DRIED ANCHOVIES. Limelyn Fernandez sundried freshly caught anchovies to ensure the finest quality of dried fish. Photo Courtesy of Jed Nykolle Harme.

"Nalulugi kami kasi yung buyers yung nagbibigay ng presyo sa paninda namin. Kami yung nagbibilad pero sila yung kumikita ng malaki. Wala naman kaming magawa kasi, ganoon talaga rito eh," she added.  

(We often incur losses because the buyers are the ones who set the prices for our goods. We are the ones who dry the fish, but they are the ones who profit greatly. We can't do anything about it because that's just how it is here.)

Limelyn said that during rainy seasons, instead of drying the fish, they are forced to sell fresh anchovy for a very cheap price to earn money. If not, she make Ginamos (fermented fish made from anchovies), where the process takes one to two weeks to ferment. "Mas lugi kami tuwing tag-ulan, lalo na sa Ginamos, kasi kami pa bibili ng asin. Halos wala nang kita. Matagal ang proseso, kaya matagal din ang balik ng pera," 

To survive, Limelyn worked other side jobs to augment their income: planting Pechay crops, raising free-range chicken, and selling fish balls to support the education of her children. 

Despite the challenges, Antonio and Limelyn were able to send all of their children to school. Two of them are now in college and the youngest in senior high school. They also managed to see their first born earn her degree in Information Technology.

"Nangungutang kaming mag-asawa para sa pag-aaral ng mga anak namin, kasi ayaw kong magaya sila sa amin. Hindi kami titigil na mangisda, hindi kami mapapagod magbilad sa araw kahit mahirap, hangga't hindi sila nakapagtapos," Limelyn said. 

(We are borrowing money for our children's education, because I don't want them to end up like us. We will not  stop fishing, we will not get tired  of sun drying, even though it's hard, until they finish their studies.)