Taal Lake stakeholders debunk IUCN report on vanishing ‘Tawilis’

FISHERMEN, vendors, restaurant owners and residents of communities around Taal Lake on Tuesday debunked the report of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that the Sardinelia tawilis, the only freshwater sardine endemic to the unique lake, is “endangered” and accused the Switzerland-based organization of “economic sabotage.”

“We, the community of concerned fishermen, fish vendors, restaurant owners, tourist guides and professionals in Batangas, strongly condemn IUCN’s report.  It is not true that tawilis is an endangered species.  It is baseless, and it is causing economic sabotage and social injustice among the Filipino people,” the United Stakeholders of Taal Lake (USTL) said in a position paper e-mailed to the media.

The group aims to debunk the latest IUCN report which states that the Sardineila tawilis is seriously threatened to the point it has become “endangered” because of various threats, including overfishing, pollution and “predation with introduced fishes, resulting in continuing declines in habitat quality and number of mature individuals.”

According to the USTL, the tawilis continues to thrive in Taal Lake and is the main source of livelihood for many communities in the area.

Josie Mendoza, a 58-year-old fish vendor, and wife of a fisherman in Laurel, Batangas, said tawilis has been thriving in Taal Lake since she was a child. 

Tawilis is a natural resource of Taal Lake.  Fishing of tawilis is seasonal because they disappear from the surface during cold season or from December to February.  This is because they go deeper in the lake during this time to reproduce,” she said.  During the hotter months of April to August, the population of tawilis returns to the surface, providing fishermen with an abundant catch, she added. 

“They are so plentiful that prices become so low and we almost give them away,” Mendoza explained.  She said the wrong report by IUCN has resulted in lower demand for tawilis. “The report was fabricated.  It was a lie,” she said.

In the same news statement, Nora Castor, another fish vendor from Tagaytay City, criticized reports that tawilis has disappeared from the lake. 

“It is natural for tawilis to go deeper into the lake when the surface of the water is cooler.  They will surely resurface during the hotter months,” she said. “Nobody in our area reported that tawilis is an endangered species.  The one who said it is not from here,” Castor said.

Alma Alitagtag, a fish vendor from Tanauan City, said: “When the temperature is lower, the population of tawilis lives deeper in the lake to lay eggs.  Then the mature tawilis resurface again in the bigger population. The younger tawilis stay deep in the lake.  This is why the population of tawilis has thrived over the past decades and continues to thrive,” she said.

“The catching of tawilis is also seasonal.  Mostly, fishermen use nets to catch them during this time until February. From March to August, fishermen use pukot because they are so abundant.  We almost give them away to our neighbors because of abundant catch.  So what was reported on TV was far from the truth.  They made the report without studying about tawilis,” Alitagtag said.

The challenged IUCN to disclose its methodology and how it conducted the research on tawilis.

“Who conducted the research in the first place? Did experts counter-check the data and information? Did they conduct proper coordination with regulatory agencies and policy-makers?  Did they use global protocols such as social preparation, identification of the problem and root causes of the problem, the definition of short-term and long-term objectives and threat analysis” the group asked.


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