By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been accused of economic sabotage for listing Sardinella Tawilis, the only freshwater sardine in the world, as an endangered species, stakeholders said.
The United Stakeholders of Taal Lake, which includes fishermen, vendors, restaurant owners and residents of communities surrounding Taal Lake, has “strongly condemned” the IUCN’s report in a position paper.
“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 group said.
IUCN said in its report that Tawilis, which is endemic to Taal Lake, has become endangered “due to overexploitation, pollution, and predation with introduced fishes, resulting in continuing declines in habitat quality and number of mature individuals”.
In the report, the international organization noted the significant decline in the catch of tawilis since 1998, with harvest declining by about 49 percent over the past 10 years.
The United Stakeholders of Taal Lake has denied this, saying Tawilis continues to thrive in Taal Lake and is a main source of livelihood for many communities in the area.
Josie Mendoza, a 58-year-old fish vendor, said in the statement that Tawilis has been thriving in Taal Lake since she was a child.
“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,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said that during the hotter months of April to August, the population of Tawilis returns to the surface, providing fishermen with abundant catch.
“They are so plenty that prices become so low and we almost give them away,” she said.
The group also asked 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, definition of short-term and long-term objectives and threat analysis,” the group asked.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has proposed a three-month fishing ban on tawilis since 2013 but it was never implemented. Following the IUCN report, BFAR has revived the proposal to impose the said ban.
Oceana Philippines, the largest international organization working exclusively to protect and restore the world’s oceans, said that seasonal closure will contribute to reviving the stock but it must be supported by other fisheries management measures to ensure long-term sustainability of the area.
These measures include tight control on fish pens, regular monitoring of water quality, prevention of invasive species, and no-nonsense enforcement of environmental laws.