TEEMING with more than 3,000 species of fish, other sea creatures and corals, the Philippines is considered a marine sanctuary.
The country, which has one of the world’s longest coastlines, has vast fishing grounds that serve as huge food basket, providing food security and livelihood to millions of Filipino fisherfolk.
The fisheries sector accounts for nearly a fifth of agricultural production and more than $700 million in net export earnings annually.
However, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) warned that overfishing and over-dependence on fisheries resources for food and income are causing rapid depletion.
In Cagayan Valley, efforts to conserve and manage fisheries resources are being undertaken by the National Stock Assessment Project (NSAP), a marine fish stock research arm of the BFAR.
To establish a reference point for the sustainable management and conservation of fish species, the NSAP will conduct a study on two top commercially important fish species in the Cagayan Valley region.
Melanie Villarao, assistant project leader of NSAP, said the project would focus on roundscad (Decapterus macrosoma) or “galunggong,” and hairtail (Trichiurus lepturus) or “espada,” both of which were being exploited.
Galunggong, as it is popularly known in the Philippines, is caught off the waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The fish is a staple for most Filipinos, not only among those living in coastal areas. The price of galunggong is considered a barometer of the economy.
Espada (ribbon fish, cutlass fish, belt fish and frost fish) is also called “balila” in Tagalog and “Diwit” in Cebuano.
The silvery sides of this fish are so brilliant the colors of the rainbow can be seen when a camera flash or sunlight is reflected off it. It is said to be more prevalent during the Habagat or monsoon season.
According to NSAP, the computed exploitation value (E-value) of both species—caught throughout the year with various types of fishing gears such as beach seine, gill nets, ring nets, trawl, and multiple and simple handlines—are above the norm.
“The NSAP will conduct study on the reproductive biology of the species, and specifically determine their seasonality and fecundity period, estimate gonadosomatic index, and estimate population parameters of the species to determine the spawning month during its breeding season,” Villarao said.
To be funded by the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, the study will run for two years from January 2018.
The expected output is a technical paper that can be used by policymakers at the local and national levels, fisherfolk and students.
“As of now, there are no specific management measures, apart from local ordinances and the national law, as regards the catching of said marine fish species,” Milagros Morales, BFAR Cagayan Valley director, said.
The Fisheries Code of 1998 (Republic Act 8550) provides the legal framework and guiding principles for the development, management, protection and conservation of the Philippine fisheries and aquatic resources.
Morales said one of the major strategies to safeguard the fisheries sector was the implementation of the closed fishing season in selected waters in the country.
The BFAR is also conducting other research on other aquatic species including black mussels and “Ludong” or lobed river mullet, said to be endemic to Cagayan River and its tributaries.