Fishing moratorium: Is PHL doing it right?

in Photo: The seasonal abundance of tamban is shown in this photo taken in San Enrique, Negros Occidental.

 Part Two

AS they are highly migratory, sardines have a very important ecosystem function— food for the larger fish species like sharks, dolphins and commercially viable tuna, and,
ultimately, humans.

Sardines are processed as dried fish or smoked fish, and are more popularly processed into bottled or—more commonly—canned sardines sold between P15 and P17 each regular can.

Sardine run vs sardine beaching

Oceana Philippines, an ocean-conservation advocacy non-governmental organization, said sardine run happens when a great quantity of living sardines are seen near the shore. It naturally happens because of several reasons, such as spawning, feeding or simply when the sardines are just passing by.

  On the other hand, sardine beaching happens when live, nearly dead or dead sardines are washed ashore. Unlike sardine run, sardine beaching is alarming, as it is caused by various factors, like man-
made causes, such as pollution, poisoning and environmental conditions like warming temperatures or lack of oxygen in the water.

Environmental stressor

Jimely Flores, a marine scientist at Oceana Philippines, meanwhile, cautioned the government against mistaking sardine beaching as sardine run.

“Beaching of the sardine [indicates that] there is a stressor at sea,” she said, adding that “it is a bad omen more than an indicator of abundance.”

Flores said beaching may be caused by several reasons, like the sardines were chased to shore by predators or fishing activity, poisoned, or due to changes in water properties. 

“High rising temperature decreases the capacity of the water to absorb dissolved oxygen and the small-size fishes are the first to react. The sardines are not that resilient to such changes,” she said.

According to Flores, whether there is plenty of fish or not, fish are forced to go to shores because of environmental stressors, hence, it is wrong to say that the closed fishing season automatically results in fish abundance.

Scientific study

Oceana Philippines is pushing for the crafting of a “National Management Framework for Sardines,” which requires a comprehensive study of the species.

“I am calling for a national management framework because this is the platform where all possible issues, solutions and goals will be tackled,” Flores said.

It is wrong, she added, to depend on a single management intervention or regulation that is weak in the first place. “It is also wrong to put regulatory policy with weak scientific foundation,” she said.

A management framework or policy should have strong scientific support or basis and is subject to a transparent and credible review, Flores said.

Beaching, as what happened in Zamboanga and other areas, could also be seen as “alarming.”

“It means with that environmental stressor plus overfishing, we are in the nick of time for a probable collapse, if nothing could be done sooner. As I’ve said, the existing closed fishing season is not enough to turn the tides of collapse,” she said.

Flores noted that sardine beaching also occurred in Mandaon, Masbate. “If I’m not mistaken, [also] somewhere in Zamboanga, in India and in Malaysia. But it was only the Philippines that claimed that there is increasing fish stock. The rest of the countries reported that it is because of environmental or other kind of stressor as the reason,” she said, adding that there is lack of scientific basis on the Department of Agriculture’s claims that the beaching was, in fact, a result of increasing fish stock.

Management framework

According to Flores, Oceana’s proposed management framework for sardines has three major elements. The first is strong, credible and transparent science. “Based on that, policies are crafted in consideration of the goals from the stakeholders. The policy crafted should be given appropriate and realistic implementation schemes. It is a living cycle and science is continuous to also include the review process.”

Under the framework, all measures and the agencies to be responsible will be identified.

Also, through such management framework, the public will know who or which agency is accountable.

“Other countries are so advance already,” she said. Under Republic Act 10654, or the amended Fisheries Code of the Philippines, Flores added, there are reference points and harvest-control rules that should be defined or complemented by the proposed management framework.

To be concluded

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes

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Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.

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