BFAR: Visayan sardine closed season starts on November 15

IT’S all systems go for the implementation of the closed season for sardine and mackerel in the Visayan Sea,” said Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources chief, Atty. Asis G. Perez at the conclusion of the orientation on law enforcement protocols to implement BFAR’s Fisheries Administrative Order No. 167 s. 1989 held in Tagbilaran, Bohol last October 8.

The three-month closed season starts on November 15 this year and will end on March 15 next year, during which the fishing, gathering, possession, buying and/or selling of sardines and mackerel are not allowed.

The bureau is now finalizing all the necessary preparations to send six (6) of its floating assets to patrol the waters of the Visayan Sea covered by the regulation Perez said.

The composite law enforcement team that will man the vessels is composed of officers and staff from the Philippine Coast Guard, members of the BFAR’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Section, the PNP-Maritime, NBI and other law enforcement agencies of the government.

Perez said that three units each of the 30-meter BFAR-MCS patrol vessels and the 28-footer patrol boats will be stationed in strategic areas in the Visayan Sea. The area covered by the closed season spans from the mouth of Danao River on the northeastern tip of the Bantayan Island to Madridejos, thru the lighthouse on Gigantes Island, to Ulutaya Island, to Culasi Point in Capiz province, eastward along the northern coast of Capiz to Bulacaue Point in Caries, Iloilo, southward along the eastern coast of Iloilo to the mouth of Talisay River, westward across the Guimaras Strait to Tomonton Point in Occidental Negros, eastward along the northern Coast of the Island of Negros and back to the mouth of Danao River in Escalante, Negros Occidental.

The closed season will cover sardines belonging to the family Clupeidae known under the following scientific and local names: Sardinella fimbriata(fimbriated sardines, tunsoy, lao-lao, tabagak, tamban, liryan); S. perferata (deep-bodied herrings, halobaybay, tamban, lapad, tamban lison, lapa); S. longiceps, Indian sardines, tamban tunsoy, haul-haul); Dusumieria acuta (round dwarf herring, tulis, balantiyong, and hilos-hilos).

Moreover, the mackerels belonging to the family Scombridae and known under the following scientific and local names: Rastrelliger brachysoma(short-bodied mackerels, hasa-hasa) and R. chrysozonus (striped mackerels, alumahan and bulao) are also covered.
Gaining wider support

Renowned environmental lawyer and advocate, Atty. Antonio Oposa, hailed the Aquino administration’s fisheries resource conservation program stating among others that the best form of law enforcement is when the law does not need to be enforced at all.

Speaking before the members of the law enforcement teams, representatives from local governments, NGOs and BFAR regional offices during the orientation, Oposa emphasized that the success of law enforcement is not about the number of apprehensions made but rather in the prevention of another violation.

“We are here to capture the hearts of our people and to create more awareness on the value of protecting the resource that would ensure the availability of fish not only for our children but for the other generations to come”, he said.

Scientific findings

A number of scientific studies, including the results of the BFAR’s National Stock Assessment Program pointed out that besides the commonality of the spawning period, there are other important findings on the status of the fisheries resources in the Visayan Sea that were considered in the implementation of the closed season.

Firstly, the biomass or the number of fish in a given area has significantly declined by more than three-folds over the last 6 decades. In the late 1940’s, the average fish biomass in the Visayan Sea was 6.03 metric ton per square kilometer; now it is only 1.80 metric tons per square kilometer.

Secondly, at least three species of the sardines and two species of the mackerel in these regions (Bicol, Central and Western Visayas) regionsare related based on the similarity in species composition, reproductive biology, DNA and known migratory behaviour.

Unfortunately, the exploitation of these same fish stocks had gone up the threshold level and is experiencing overfishing. This means that the current fishing pressure is higher than the natural recruitment or the ability of the fish to reproduce.

Protecting the goose that lays the golden eggs

“Overfishing and other forms of illegal and destructive fishing, if not seriously addressed would continue to cripple our fisheries industry,” says Perez. The latter is also one of the major culprits of habitat destruction.

The closed season provides these species of fishes a time to spawn and thus enables the species to recoup.

According to BFAR’s study, sardines have a high fecundity which means that each individual female can bear as much as 700,000 eggs. The sardines also easily reach full maturity in a year’s time.

Strengthening logistics support

To ensure a more comprehensive cover of the government’s Sardine Management Plan, adjacent waters off Masbate will also be regularly patrolled Perez said. These areas include Acid Gulf, Burias Strait, Ticao Pass and Jinatuan where reports of illegal and destructive fishing are rampant.

“Our approach to law enforcement would be more of a preventive and/or of voluntary compliance on the part of commercial fishing boat operators and owners. However, having exhausted all these measures, our teams will not hesitate apprehending recalcitrant operators”, Perez stressed.

New lawyers were recently hired by the agency that will provide legal services to the law enforcement team.

The BFAR had also ensured that all six (6) patrol vessels are not just properly manned but are also provided with appropriate communication and navigational aids including transponders that will enable the agency to track the position of each vessel, among others.

Regional Efforts

The regional offices of the BFAR in areas covered by the Visayan Sea closed season had been interfacing with their respective regional law enforcement coordinating councils and heads of the local governments in the past months to harmonize all initiatives and ensure seamless implementation of the said FAO. Likewise, information campaigns had also been intensified to gain the support of all stakeholders, specially the commercial fishing boat operators and the consumers as well.

BFAR regional director Andres Bojos who also chairs the Coastal Law Enforcement Alliance of Region 7 (CLEAR-7) said that a series of consultative meetings had already been undertaken in as much as this is the first time that the implementation of the regulation will be seriously undertaken.

Region 6 director Drucila Bayate in their information drive emphasized the need to continuously involved and provide the local heads with scientific data and information on the status of the resources. Many municipal islands of the region straddle the Visayan Sea and the region is also one of the major fish production areas of the country.

Allaying fears of possible transfer of fishing efforts to the waters of the Bicol region, director Dennis del Socorro told the local heads that the BFAR will continue to patrol the waters in close coordination with the incoming 6 patrol vessels.

Socorro had also assured commercial fishing operators that BFAR will take into account the results of this closed season in determining the possibility of harmonizing the closed season period with that of the Zamboanga Peninsula considering the commonality of the sardine stocks.
Advancing two steps by one step backward

In a recent radio interview, Perez emphasized that a little sacrifice has to be done by our fishers, specially the commercial sector during the period.

“But we are confident that such measure would bring better benefits to the industry. In the case of last year’s closed season in Zamboanga Peninsula, an impressive 13 percent spike in sardine production was achieved beginning the second quarter of this year alone”, he said.

The government had also prepared a number of livelihood interventions for the affected municipal fishers through its mangrove rehabilitation program and other livelihood assistance.

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