Fishing moratorium:  Is PHL doing it right?

Part One

In July 2015 a netizen uploaded a video of thousands of sardines—specifically herring, or more popularly called tamban—in the Philippines, caught in nets of municipal fishermen in the Province of Leyte.

Residents hailed the catch as a “miracle,” a gift from heaven, as such magnanimous ocean bounty rarely happens.

In March 2016, in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, residents joined the frenzy of catching fish using improvised nets from the shores, as tens of thousands of tamban started to show up near the pier for several nights. Again, it was hailed as another blessing from the sea.

Agriculture officials believe these events were a result of an effective management intervention —the declaration of fishing ban or moratorium imposed by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to allow certain commercially viable fish to breed and thrive in numbers, thus, replenishing the country’s fish stock.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, during a brief speech at the awarding of the Philippine Agricultural Journalists Inc.—San Miguel Corp. Binhi Awards on March 22, in Makati City, said more fishing moratorium will be declared in strategic areas in the country to ensure sustainable fishery production, particularly for tamban, as he underscored the effectiveness of the measure that resulted in the phenomenon called “sardine run.”

Scientists, however, have a different explanation, distinguishing sardine run from sardine beaching, while assailing the lack of comprehensive study and management plan that will ensure the survival of sardines, particularly the lowly tamban, which is ironically not even among the major species on the radar of the concerned government agencies.

Fishery situation

While the Philippines is one of the top fish producers in the world, poverty incidence in the fishery sector in 2015 was placed at 34 percent, next to agriculture or farming sector, which was at 34.3 percent.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) Fisheries Situation Report from January to December 2017, the total volume of fisheries production declined by 1.04 percent compared to the previous year’s level.

The drop in production was high at 6.89 percent in the commercial fishery subsector, with the municipal fisheries experiencing a slight 1.05-percent decline. Aquaculture production, on the other hand, slightly increased by 1.68 percent, the report said.

Of the major species, round scad or galunggong, and tiger prawn showed production shortfall of 11.89 percent and 6.29 percent, respectively.

On the other hand, more milkfish, tilapia, seaweed, skipjack and yellowfin tuna were produced.

Supply and demand

The price of any commodity in a free-market economy is supposed to be dictated by the law of supply and demand. The price of fish, for example, goes sky-high during the lean season or months when fishing is impossible. On the other hand, the price of fish goes down in times of abundance.

While abundance means lower food price, for the fishermen, it is bad news, as fish dealers would often buy their produce at an even lower price. Unlike big fishing companies, small fishermen have no cold storage, hence, have no choice but to sell their catch to dealers who act as middlemen. These traders dictate the price of fish in the market.

‘New galunggong’

Because of its affordability, fresh tamban, which costs around P80 to P100 per kilo during peak season, and P120 to P140 per kilo during offseason in the market, is now considered as the “new galunggong.”

In fishing communities, such as in the coastal areas of Zamboanga Peninsula, tamban costs as low as P10 to P20 per kilo because of the sheer volume of production.

A pelagic fish, tamban can be found anywhere in the country. Tamban, which feeds on plankton, plays a very important role in the food cycle.

Tamban is also an ecosystem indicator in the ocean. More tamban means more food both for larger fish and humans alike.

To be continued

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes

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