Masbate City bans premature catching of sardines to avert overfishing

October 14, 2012 10:35 am 

By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Oct. 13 — Premature catching of sardines, a fish species that densely thrives in most Bicol’s fishing grounds, is now illegal within the waters of Masbate City.

An ordinance recently enacted by the Masbate City legislative council and approved by Mayor Socrates Tuason imposes penalties of imprisonment and fines to those found catching sardines prematurely.

Tuason’s administration is known for its strict implementation of marine fishery laws and policies earning for the city the cleanest record in illegal fishing among coastal local government units (LGUs) in Bicol since it adopted as flagship a comprehensive program on the preservation of its marine resources several years ago.

The ordinance, he said, was in response to the call of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for a fishing moratorium on sardine fish during its spawning season, which starts in November and end in January, in Burias Strait.

This fishing area that covers the municipal waters of the provinces of Masbate, Albay, Camarines Sur and Sorsogon is the largest in Bicol and one of the country’s main sources of sardines whose economic importance is worth billions of pesos, particularly in the domestic and overseas fish canning industry.

Sardines, which include herring, are one of the major fish species caught in Philippine waters next to tuna in volume.

BFAR data show that sardines accounts for about 26 percent of the 1.24-million metric ton (MT) catch from commercial fisheries and 11 percent of the 1.18 million MT municipal fish catch as of 2010.

BFAR data also show that total catch went down by 109,000 MT, or 24 percent last year, from 452,000 MT in 2010 due to overfishing.

There are four major sardine fish producing areas in the country and one of it is Burias Strait whose stocks extend up to the Ticao Pass, San Bernardino Strait and Sorsogon Bay. These areas are among the principal sources of the fish being used by canning factories in Mindanao, Metro Manila and even abroad.

When left undisturbed during spawning seasons this habitat promises more production, according to the BFAR.

A BFAR research showed that for every ton of fish left to spawn, a three-fold increase in the biomass of the fish is expected. But since sardines are pelagic and the fishing area is vast, the change will not be felt until the next three months following the moratorium.

It is during the spawning period of three months and another three months after the proposed moratorium that the ban would be strictly imposed by the Masbate City government to give way to the birth of new sardine fishes and their growth into an age that is already mature for fishing, Tuason said.

Earlier, the Greenpeace said that the biggest single threat to Bicol’s marine ecosystems today was overfishing.

Bicol’s appetite for fish exceeded the ecological limits of its fishery resources, rendering devastating impacts on marine ecosystems, it said.

Greenpeace is an international organization working in the Philippines with its campaign to protect and conserve the environment and promote peace by investigating, exposing and confronting environmental abuse and championing environmentally responsible solutions.

Greenpeace Philippines has visited the adjoining coastal waters of Burias and Ticao Pass in Masbate province to gather data for scientific and objective intervention on the problems threatening the marine ecosystem.

The area that covers municipal waters on the southwestern sections of Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon and the entire Ticao and Burias Islands of Masbate is considered the widest fishing ground of the region.

The Bicol visit was part of the peaceful global campaign set out by the Greenpeace to protect and preserve the oceans.

Illegal and unregulated fishing mechanisms especially those used by large fishing vessels contribute to the significant depletion of local resources. At times the massive fish catch of these vessels in one night are far more than the total weekly catch of ordinary fishers, Greenpeace Southeast Asia ocean campaigner Vince Cinches had announced following the recent visit.

Many fishing vessels in the area catch fish other than the ones that they target and in many cases these are simply thrown dead or dying back into the sea. In some trawl fisheries for shrimp, the discard may be 90 percent of the catch. This is called the by-catch or untargeted capture, the most devastating fishing system, Cinches said.

The impact of this practice, along with other unsustainable fishing mechanisms, has been affecting the local fish supply, he said noting the continuous soaring of prices but deteriorating quality and quantity.

“The problem is true in the entire Philippines and it is ironic that as an archipelagic country with around 1, 707 islands, the fish supply from its oceans is diminishing. Our fishes these days are getting smaller since the larger ones are gone. Even the smaller and younger ones that should not have been caught are sold,” Cinches said. (PNA)

RMA/DOC/CBD

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