On the second Fisheries Management Area (FMA) Summit, all eyes were on the humble sardine species after Agriculture Secretary William Dar directed all FMAs to implement the long-overdue National Sardines Management Plan (NSMP).
“We can no longer ignore the critical need to manage our sardine fisheries. This means that all 12 Fisheries Management Areas must abide by the National Sardines Management Plan I signed in May last year,” he said in a pre-recorded message.
“The Plan provides guidelines specifying reference points, harvest control rules, and other appropriate measures in line with the amended Fisheries Code. Our Scientific Advisory Group must work on concrete and definite recommendations to protect our fish stocks. The circumstances that have led to a rapid decline in our fish populations over the past few years have not been resolved. We need a science-based plan to address this critical issue and we need it now,” Dar emphasized.
The country’s fisheries were delineated into 12 areas under the Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 263 issued by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture (DA). These areas are co-managed by representatives from the fisheries bureau and other national government agencies, local government units, fisherfolk groups, and sub-FMAs such as protected areas through management bodies. The Scientific Advisory Group provides the much-needed scientific expertise to recommend measures for sustainable interventions in management to the Management Body.
Meanwhile, the Plan was designed to be integrated into this system to improve the science-based indicators for the sustainability of sardine fish stocks, distribute the benefits among sardine fisherfolk communities, and strengthen management for sustainable sardine fisheries by the end of 2025.
Sardines are a major source of protein for the Philippines and a main economic driver in its fisheries industry, with an annual production of 333,743 metric tons. However, over time, experts have been raising the alarm on the deterioration of its population due to rampant overfishing.
Since the National Sardine Management Plan’s approval in 2020, Oceana has been working with various stakeholders to ensure the smooth integration of the plan in the FMA system. This included training sessions and dialogues with stakeholders including fisherfolk who are integral to the successful implementation of the FMAs and the NSMP.
“Mahalaga ang National Sardine Management Plan sa aming mga mangingisda. Napakarami sa amin ang umaasa sa masaganang huli ng sardinas kaya maigi sanang sa lalong madaling panahon ay maipatupad na ito sa ating mga pangisdaan,” said Zamboanga Sibugay fisherfolk leader Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon, who recently received the Ramon Magsaysay and Ocean Hero awards.
(The National Sardine Management Plan is important to fisherfolk. Many of us depend on sardines for our livelihood so we are hopeful that it will soon be implemented all throughout our fisheries.)
However, the Plan has largely been neglected since its approval in May 2020. According to Oceana Vice President Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, “except for the Management Body of Fisheries Management Area 7, which just approved the adoption of the Plan with the recommended reference points and harvest control rules, other Fisheries Management Areas have still to adopt and implement the Plan despite the continuous appeal of our artisanal fisherfolk.”
Heavy fishing pressure and environmental changes over time have taken their toll on what was once a rich sardine resource. According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), catch of sardine species bali (tamban) and fimbriati (lawlaw/tuloy) have significantly declined by 26.4% from 442,045.75 metric tons in 2010 to 325,226.20 metric tons in 2019.
The situation has not improved in recent years, according to Dr. Wilfredo Campos of the University of the Philippines Visayas. Campos spearheaded a recent study by Oceana which indicated an urgent need to implement regulatory measures, including reducing the length of nets or the frequency of fishing in FMA 7. Campos has already raised the issue on the overfishing of sardines in the past and with this recent study he revealed that alarmingly, more than three-fourths of the catches they monitored in Bulan, Sorsogon fell below the size at first maturity.
“There is no time to waste in implementing the National Sardines Management Plan. We need to act now because science has long been telling us that our sardine stocks are already overfished. We must prevent their further deterioration,” urged Campos.
This was echoed by Ramos who lamented that “sardine populations are unable to recover because these are being caught before they even have the chance to reproduce. This problem can be addressed under the road map provided by the National Sardine Management Plan which is why we have been consistent in calling for its implementation, with the inputs of local stakeholders through series of public consultations.”
Dar reassured fisheries stakeholders of the DA’s commitment to the shared goal of solving “the substantive issues facing both the fisheries industry and our marine and coastal environment.” Also included in his directive are the full and effective implementation of fisheries laws pertaining to vessel monitoring and coral reef preservation.
The BFAR, represented during the event by Kima Karla Cedo of its Capture and Fisheries Division, stated that the Plan was set to be “mainstreamed” in the plans to be formulated for the 12 FMAs. “Maraming nilalaman ‘yon pero isa na sa pinaka-importante ang pagkakaroon ng reference points and harvest control rules sa major sardine fisheries natin. (Much can be said about the plans, but the most important aspects are the reference points and harvest control rules for our major sardine fisheries.)”
On December 10, the Management Body of FMA 7 approved two resolutions for the (i) the precedent-setting adoption of the reference points and harvest control rules for Sardinella lemuru and Sardinella gibbosa as endorsed by its Scientific Advisory Group, pursuant to the Plan and (ii) adoption and institutionalization of the Fisheries Management Area Scorecard as monitoring and evaluation tool.
“Secretary Dar’s unequivocal directive to prioritize the implementation of the Plan across the FMA system should be taken seriously. We commend the Management Body of FMA 7 for its leadership in taking the first steps towards the full-blown implementation of the National Sardine Management Plan and we are looking forward to our fisheries management bodies taking the needed actions to save our important sardine fisheries,” Ramos said.
Oceana is dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.