TALISAYAN, Zamboanga City: Commercial fishing firms and fisher folk can now resume their operations in the waters here as the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources officially opened the sardines season in the peninsula, following a three-month ban on sardine fishing.
Species like tuna, Sardinella lemuru (tamban), and salay-salay ginto (scad) can be fished anew in East Sulu Sea, Basilan Strait, and Sibuguey Bay.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who joined the opening ceremony with local government units, fisher folk and fishing companies, affirmed the significant impact of the closed fishing season to the population of sardines in the Zamboanga peninsula.
“There was an increase from 2015 in the catch of Sardinella lemuru [tamban]. The catch was 137,142.55 metric
tons. Umakyat ito to 143,060 MT noong 2016 at noong 2017, mas lalong tumaas sa 152,283 MT [It increased to 143, 060 MT in 2016 and in 2017, rose to 152, 283 MT] he said.
The closed fishing season did not only result in increased sardine population. Piñol said fishing companies in Zamboanga also reported increased sighting of big and high-value fish species that feed on small fishes like sardines.
“It is beneficial to the country because since they started the closed fishing season, the once rare big fish—tuna, salay-salay ginto [scad]— are gradually coming back to the point that even the people in Gen San [General Santos City] are getting their tuna supply from Zamboanga peninsula,” Piñol said.
Assistance during close season
The Agriculture chief said, however, that there is a need to address the lack of livelihood among fishery workers and fisher folk during the closed season.
“What do fishermen do during off fishing season? This is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Piñol said.
He said fishery workers and fisher folk may seek assistance through the Production Loan Easy Access (PLEA) program of the Department of Agriculture (DA), a special credit facility that grants non-collateralized loans for agri-fishery production.
“To tell you, repayment rate is 96 percent. You see, we really just have to trust our fellow Filipino men,” Piñol added.
The DA also promised P50 million worth of livelihood support to the affected fishery workers and fisher folk during closed seasons.
“We have money in government right now available for the people to use. To help local fishermen is my commitment here in Zamboanga today,” the Agriculture chief said.
For his part, Rep. Celso Lobregat of the First District of Zamaboanga City said the closed fishing season has also been noticed by other countries.
“Results have been fantastic and tremendous. In fact, other countries are already looking on what have started in Zamboanga and trying to replicate it. Closing fishing really brings a lot of benefits especially now that we have sustainable supply of sardines,” he said.
Lobregat added that about 80 percent of all canned sardines produced in the country come from Zamboanga City alone. He further said fisher folk were also assisted during the closed fishing season.
“When it’s closed fishing season, factories start to repair and do the maintenance so they hire. Fishing companies as well start to repair their fishing nets. Therefore, our fishermen are not left jobless,” he said.
“We partnered with TESDA [Technical Education and Skills Development Authority] to train our fishing and canning factory workers with livelihood programs. We hope that all concerned agencies, organizations and companies will help together to help solve problems like this facing Zamboanga,” Lobregat added.
The sardines/fishing closed season was initiated to allow fish stocks in the Zamboanga Peninsula to replenish. It has been in place since 2011.
Closed fishing seasons are also observed in other fishing grounds like the Visayan Sea, Northeastern Palawan, and Davao Gulf, among others.