AGHAM: Implement comprehensive approach to tawilis conservation


February 2, 2019


AGHAM calls on the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to reconsider its decision on the total ban of fishing to conserve the tawilis in Taal Lake. Instead, BFAR should address the root cause of its depletion and take regulatory measures that would not disadvantage fisherfolk.

Tawilis (Sardinella tawilis), the only freshwater sardine species in the world, was recently classified as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to the IUCN, factors such as overfishing, pollution, and predation by introduced species, such as tilapia and jaguar guapote, are causing the rapid decline in sardine stocks.

Despite warnings from fisherfolk and environmental organizations, BFAR is set to implement a closed season in Taal Lake, the same program being implemented for sardine stocks in Zamboanga. This proposal, however, is short-sighted and comes from a lack of a comprehensive study on the fishing ban’s effect on the livelihood of small fisherfolk. It also fails to consider the perennial problem of eutrophication and pollution brought by unsustainable aquaculture practices in the lake, such as the unregulated number of fish cage units, overfeeding, and accidental release of tilapia. Temporal fishing bans will not enhance fish population as long as the ecological damage brought by nearby fish cages is not resolved. The state of the lake’s well-being is reflected in seasonal fish kills, with the recent one occurring only in November 2018 brought by the overturn of oxygen-depleted waters from the lake bottom. The government's move will also put the fisherfolk’s livelihood into jeopardy because no alternative employment would be available once the ban started.

Tawilis is not the only fish species that is rapidly being depleted. Sinarapan, the smallest fish in the world endemic in Lake Buhi in Camarines Sur, is being threatened by the introduction of tilapia in the lake. In August 2018, a problem of declining stocks of galunggong arose which was then used by the government to justify the importation of 17,000 MT of fish. Other depleted stocks include anchovies, mackerels, and yellowfin tuna. It is ironic that the Philippines, despite being an archipelagic country with abundant water resources, is compelled to import fish because of faulty laws and their toothless implementation.

AGHAM calls for a thorough, comprehensive, and participatory management strategies for the conservation of Tawilis. The depleting stocks of tawilis as well as other important fish species is a manifestation of a neglected sector where the fishery resources are being subjected to massive exploitation by commercial fish cages and fishing vessels. Hence, the country's food security as provided by the fishery sector will be constantly under threat if the government will continue to deny the root cause of the stocks depletion and penalizing fisherfolk dependent on these fishes. Furthermore, the Fisheries Code of 1998 still allows for the encroachment of commercial fishing vessels into municipal waters, thereby increasing fishing effort in the already exploited and overfished waters. Fisheries management must be based on thorough and comprehensive scientific study and planning, and must address the systemic problems of the sector.

For reference:

Jerwin Baure
Fisheries Technologist