Pa-aling Fishermen in the Philippines Dive 40 Meters to Haul Nets

by Owen James Burke

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This may be the single most dangerous form of fishing in the world, requiring a crew of 100 men to facilitate compressor dives down to 40 meters in order to clear their nets from the bottom and corral the fish for hauling. If so much as a kink or knot forms, the diver is presumed to be as good as dead. Using hundreds of feet of thin rubber tubing and a rusty air compressor, ‘Pa-aling’ is a method of fishing that allows fishing fleets to work the waters around coral heads.

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The crew on deck is constantly untangling snagged and fouled tubes — lifelines to those below — struggling to maintain a source of air for their friends, who are without doubt struggling a little more down below. 

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This is the rusty compressor which the divers rely on to provide them air. Much of this fishing takes place with no decompression chamber and around 200 miles from the nearest hospital.

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One of the most dangerous parts of the dive comes when it is time to enter the net. If anything goes wrong with the tubing then, such as a kink or a tear, the diver to which it’s connected immediately becomes nothing but a memory.

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It can be even more dangerous when it comes time to surface, as divers frequently reach for the surface too soon and find themselves with the bends, or decompression illness.

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Pa-aling fishing, while still controversial itself, is the response to the recent banning of a much more devastating type of commercial fishing known as muro ami, which employs large rocks and cement blocks to literally crush the reef in order to scare fish out of hiding.

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