The decline in sardines catch in Bicol and Samar is now at an alarming rate, prompting international organization Oceana to urge the Philippine government to prioritize and hasten the implementation of the National Sardine Management Plan.
Oceana recently released the results of its study, “Developing the Sardine Management Plan for Fisheries Management Area 7”, revealing the continuous decline of sardines in Bicol and Samar. The study assessed the conditions of sardine stocks in Fisheries Management Area 7 fishing grounds from February 2020 to March 2021.
Dr. Wilfredo Campos of the University of the Philippines – Visayas, who spearheaded the study, has warned of dire consequences because of overfishing in the area.
“Many Filipinos depend on sardines not only for food but also for livelihood, making this one of the most important resources in achieving food security in the country. It is therefore imperative that the government safeguards our sardine species that are now on the verge of collapse,” added Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana.
“We strongly urge the implementation of the National Sardines Management Plan in Fisheries Management Areas to stop the dangerous decline of our sardine resource,” she added.
Approved by Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar on May 15, 2020, the National Sardine Management Plan aims to improve science-based indicators for the sustainability of fish stocks and distribution of benefits among sardine fisherfolk communities and strengthen science-based management for sustainable sardine fisheries by the end of 2025.
“It's very clear that the sardine stocks are overfished. And we should not wait until the limits, the targets are breached. Aside from monitoring, we need to think of measures to arrest further deterioration of the status of the stock,” Campos said.
“In other words, regardless of who is fishing, the total amount that is being extracted has to be regulated. All the science-based measures are fine, but there is not going to be any additional science that can change the situation from over-exploited to good. The science is not going to do that,” he further said.
Heavy fishing pressure and environmental changes over time have taken their toll on the country’s rich sardine resource. Data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that catch in bali (tamban) and fibriati (lawlaw/tuloy) sardine species significantly declined by 26.4 percent from 442,045.75 metric tons (MT) in 2010 to 325,226.20 MT in 2019.
Oceana’s latest study monitored the fishing grounds of FMA 7, particularly from Balatan in Camarines Sur, Pio Duran in Albay, Monreal in Ticao Island, and the main station for fishing vessel operations in Bulan, Sorsogon.
GPS trackers were installed on fishing vessels operating in the area and allowed the team to monitor fishing activities in FMA 7 over time. Through this, the team discovered that 60 percent of the total 60,000 MT caught in FMA 7 were from Bulan station.
“More than three fourths of the catches in Bulan fall below the size of first maturity. Many juveniles are caught in this area and we need to implement measures to reduce this by regulating the fishing effort – the number of vessels, the frequency of catches, and when they are allowed to operate,” Campos said.
The recommendations made by Campos would be covered by the implementation of the National Sardine Management Plan.
“As our scientists have said, the time to act on saving our dwindling sardine resource is now. It is crucial that the Management Board of sardine-rich Fisheries Management Area 7 considers the immediate integration and implementation of the National Sardine Management Plan. We need to act swiftly before our sardine resources deteriorate any further and it becomes even more difficult for these sardine species to recover,” said Ramos.
Oceana is dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolks and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.