Just off Molocaboc Island in Negros Occidental, beneath a turquoise canopy of water, fishers searched the coral reef for abalone and sea cucumber, two prized delicacies in Asian cuisine.
Live abalone sells abroad for up to $120 a kilogram, or approximately P5,700, and dried sea cucumber, $2,000/kg, or about P96,000.
But the fishers were not here to cash in on the abalone grazing on coralline substrates and the sea cucumber burrowing in the white sand.
Not yet. They carefully weighed and sized them, logged the numbers in a notebook, and returned them to the reef to enable them to continue to grow and reproduce.
During the formative years of the sea-ranching project, the fisherfolks asked when they will benefit from the rehabilitation of the overfished abalone, sea cucumber and seahorse population.
Dr. Nerissa Salayo, a socioeconomist of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center Aquaculture Department, answered: “It will likely take longer than we would expect. It could be beyond our lifetime. But for sure, if we succeed, we will leave a legacy to the fisherfolk of the future generations,” she said in a Seafdec/AQD news report written by Juliana Rose Pagador and Rex Delsar Dianala.
Some fisherfolk got serious, but with a smile, they said, “So we’re dead already, but our children will benefit.”
Sea-ranching approach; sustainability
Over a decade since the conversation with Salayo, the fisherfolk have abandoned destructive fishing practices and adopted a sea-ranching approach.
Salayo looked back at the people’s cooperation and participation, and credited them for the current success of the sea-ranching project at Molocaboc Island, 20 minutes by boat from the Sagay City Port north of Negros Island.
It was since 2006 when the Molocaboc fishers and the Sagay City local government have been working with Seafdec/AQD, whose staff guided them in the Community-Based Resource Enhancement Project.
After years of social preparation and assessments, hatchery-bred juveniles of abalone, sea cucumber and seahorses were periodically released in a no-catch zone, starting in 2011.
Since then, the fishers have been protecting and monitoring the stocks.
Abalone, sea cucumber and seahorses flourished and—except for seahorses which were banned from the trade—gleaners started gathering just outside the protected site, Seafdec/AQD said.
Over the years, they reported catching a bit more, which supplemented their subsistence income.
In 2017, the fishers of Molocaboc began shipping live abalone to top hotels in Manila, while local traders supplied exporters in Cebu.
To ensure sustainability, gleaners only harvested abalone with shells of at least 6-centimeters long, thanks to a Sagay City regulation initiated by the project.
Sea cucumbers were also protected by nationwide harvest-size and trade regulations, Seafdec/AQD added.
Role of fisherfolk leaders, barangay officials
Convincing the community to be involved in the project was the first hurdle, but one that was soon resolved.
Salayo recalled the efforts of Mariano Abog Jarina, an elderly fisherfolk leader who helped bolster interest and support for the project from the very start.
With most of his life dedicated to fishing, Jarina, fondly called Tatay Marianing, has a reputation in the community for his steadfast principles and sincere dedication to his work.
A father of seven, he was the breadwinner of his growing family until he stopped going out to sea in 2005 because of declining health.
“Tay Marianing is one of several personalities, together with the officials of Barangay Molocaboc, who made things easier for me when organizing people,” Salayo noted. “He would personally approach people in their homes to encourage them to participate in discussions and lectures, especially during the early stages of the project.”
“Together with his co-senior buddies, he was hands-on during sampling, overseeing and guiding fellow fisherfolks on tasks. Like my father, I would seek his advise if there were problems in the field,” Salayo recalled.
“The Jarina family also opened their home and treated us like we were a part of the family, whenever our team had to stay for a few days and nights,” she said as she cited the challenge of monitoring the released stocks, especially the nocturnal abalone.
In 2009, the Barangay Molocaboc Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council, was organized. Jarina would serve as one of its presidents, in succession with other officers.
He continued as advisor of the organization until he passed away last October 4, 2020, at the age of 72. Until his last moment, he was saying that Molocaboc Sea Ranchers Association (Mosra) should continue to care for the stock enhancement project with Seafdec in Molocaboc.
For the future
Today, about 60 community members are participating in the project. Seafdec/AQD Chief Dan Baliao has turned over the hatcheries and other sea ranching support facilities to the Sagay City local government unit (LGU) and Mosra in 2019.
“For 13 years, Seafdec built up the community acceptance of the sea ranching project, and had proven that harvesting abalone and sea cucumber can indeed be done sustainably. It is time for the fishers and the LGU to fully own the success and be a model for what other coastal communities can do,” Baliao said as reported by Seafdec/AQD.
Janet Tuling Jarina, Tatay Marianing’s daughter and the present secretary of Mosra, shared that the monthly monitoring of the abalone and sea cucumber stocks continued in daily schedules and shifts among the members amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Papa [Jarina] always emphasized that this project is for the future generations of our community. The benefits reaped from our efforts today will be appreciated by our kids and even grandkids,” said the younger Jarina, a mother of a four-year-old boy.