Why we need to talk about ‘galunggong’

In file photo: A man tends his fish stall at a local wet market in Quezon City. He says that round scad, or galunggong in local terms, is a Filipino staple and a favorite.

MACKY GALLARDO, not his real name, has been selling fish at a local wet market in Quezon City for five years. His display of fresh seafood ranges from shrimp and squid, to big catch such as tuna already chopped to smaller pieces, and to smaller ones such as the red snapper, locally known as maya-maya. At the far end of his table, the Filipino staple round scad, or galunggong, is also displayed, but only in amounts one can count.

This author asked how much a kilo of galunggong is. “I can give P160 for that, ma’am,” Gallardo said in Filipino. Other stalls also sold round scad but Gallardo’s stall had the cheapest price per kilo.

“It’s getting more expensive by the day, especially that Christmas is near,” Gallardo noted. He told the BusinessMirror that almost all of the stalls in that wet market sell galunggong,but stocks have been declining ever since.

Data showed by Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) during the Science Policy and Information Forum 2018 on November 7 showed local production of galunggong in the country has declined for the last five years and, since 2008, it hasn’t met the local demand of 300,000 metric tons (MT) of round scad.

The need to import

There is no question that galunggong is a Filipino fish staple. It definitely hits right in the Filipino taste buds. “Especially when it’s [galunggong] smaller, you can even eat the scales right away because it is crunchy when fried,” Gallardo told the BusinessMirror.

But having no other sources of galunggong despite the vast water space around the islands of the archipelago, the country has to import round scad from Vietnam, Taiwan and China to maintain the steady supply.

“We have a demand of 300,000 MT but we only produce about 125,000 MT of galunggong locally, so we really have to import,” Gongona said. He further explained that importation is important because local canneries employ a lot of people. According to Gongona, there is nothing wrong with importation as long as what the country imports are less than what is produced locally.

Food security, food availability

Gongona told the BusinessMirror that in order for the country to address food security, production must be increased. “If we produce more, we have income that can be generated and we can pay for the jobs of the people,” he said. But for Dr. Nygiel B. Armada, chief of party of the USAID FishRIGHT Project, food security isn’t just about increasing production and feeding the current population.

“You have to look at what’s left in the sea because that’s what gives you the future catch for the future generation,” Armada told the BusinessMirror. “If you don’t think about what’s left there [in the waters], that’s the problem.”

Armada explained that most people equate food security only with supply, but stressed that Filipinos need to change their perspective toward it. “If you look only at how much you catch, you will think that it’s [production] is still okay,” until it no longer is.

In a presentation during the forum, Armada showed a saturation point graph where stocks of galunggong, according to their research and fishing closure projects, are already at a certain steady point of production. He explained to the BusinessMirror that if stocks continue to go down, the decline in recruitment will not be felt right away. In biology terms, recruitment refers to the number of fish that has reached maturity or reproduction stage.

“This means that you become at ease because you don’t see or feel this kind of situation and this becomes a dangerous condition,” Armada explained. He also said that since fish can reproduce a lot, and if you reach that critical point, a little difference in the number of stocks can have a big effect on the availability of round scad in the waters.

Fishing closure

To date, there are 24 major fishing areas of galunggong around the country, with Palawan as one of the top suppliers. A study conducted by Armada’s team that involved three-month closures from November to January in the waters of Palawan for commercial fishing showed the efficiency of the project in terms of production. “It is the peak time for spawning [for galunggong], a time where you allow them to lay their eggs,” Armada said.

Through satellite images, the team of Armada identified the location of fishing bans since 2014 and have implemented closures since 2015. Satellite images, according to Armada, can provide information on where chlorophyll is abundant. Chlorophyll helps photosynthesize algae or phytoplanktons, which, in turn, become food for the fish.

“Fishing closure is a tool to revive the resource because we have already decimated parent stocks, such that the young that comes out of it are no longer enough for the harvesting of the various fishers,” Armada shared.

At present, Armada said most of the stocks for galunggong are still at the critical point and underscored the need to bring down the number of boats engaged in galunggong fishing.

“With our data, maybe you have to reduce about 20 percent of the commercial fishing boats at a minimum to be able to sustain galunggong resource,” Armada said. He added that once resource is revived, data can show the ideal number of fishing boats allowed to harvest galunggong because “this will become your basis of unsustainable levels and production can be now maintained at a certain level.”

Fish: A renewable resource

Armada hopes that the Filipino’s favorite seafood staple will go back to its normal production state.

In general, he told the BusinessMirror, “The fishes are the last wild animals, the group of animals that we are hunting on a large scale.” He added that it is a renewable resource because “if you only fish what is enough and right, you can still harvest in the future.”

All of the fish we have left in the waters, for Armada, are on the verge of being harvested. Fish stocks have been definitely depleted through a number of factors, such as climate change or the rise in the volume of plastics in the ocean. Armada explained, however, that even with climate change, as long as parent stocks are in good levels, it means fishes can buffer climate change. “If they can still reproduce and even with the effects of climate change, such as deaths of some stocks, the remaining fishes can still rebuffer,” Armada said, noting that parent stocks must be harvested at the right amount.

        Galunggong mostly spawn in municipal waters. Municipal waters, which are 15 kilometers from the shore, are under the protection of the local governments and Gongona said they constantly ask LGUs to take good care of the municipal waters. “If the municipal water is rich, there will be a lot of galunggong, sardines and, eventually, tuna. If they can take care of it [municipal waters], they [LGUs] are contributing much to the economy of the Philippines.”

Still, without the collective efforts by both the government and the industry, backed by sacrifice based on good science and research, galunggong might just be another Filipino staple that is, as how Gallardo puts it, “a dying breed.”

Image credits: Stephanie Tumampos


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