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By Julio Yap, Jr.

Locally known as tamban, sardines can provide a cheap source of protein-rich food for Filipinos.

The Western Mindanao Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development Consortium (WESMAARRDEC) bannered one of its most notable achievements for the sardine industry. In partnership with its member agencies, this project can support the goal of improving the supply chain of sardines in selected regions of the country.

The effort primarily addresses the decline in sardine production, coupled with overfishing, which may jeopardize the industry’s numerous beneficiaries, not only in the Zamboanga peninsula but also in the whole country.

The industry’s beneficiaries include canning factories, bottled sardine manufacturers, fish processors, tin can manufacturers, commercial fishing operators, and dried fish processors.

A bountiful catch of sardines awaits processing and disposal at one of the landing sites in the country.

Responding to this concern, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) implemented closed season for sardine fishing through a joint administrative circular. The circular prohibited the catching of sardines in the conservation area (East Sulu Sea, Basilan Strait, and Sibuguey Bay) for three months, from December 1 to March 1 for three years (2011-2014).

The closed season for sardines is a project component of the Sulu-Celebes Sea Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SCS-SFMP) of the DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources/National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (DA-BFAR/NFRDI), funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

To provide science-based information to validate the policy on closed season for sardines, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCAARRD-DOST) funded a program on the development of tools for managing the sardine fisheries.

The three-month closed season for sardines resulted in an increase in the production of sardines in the study area. The study also recorded a 30 percent increase in sardine production in 2012. An increase was also noted in the relative number of spawners, disappearance of small sardines, and appearance of bigger ones in the landed catch.

With the gains of the closed season, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, a WESMAARRDEC-member agency, extended its implementation for another three years beginning 2014 subject to continuous research and peer review by experts to determine the best management strategy that would ensure the sustainability and conservation of sardines.

In 2011, PCAARRD, with the support of the UP Marine Science Institute (MSI) and in cooperation with UP Visayas (UPV) and Mindanao State UniversityNaawan (MSU-Naawan) implemented a program for the development of robust tools for the sardine industry using satellite and landed catch data under its Industry Strategic S&T Program (ISP). The DOST-PCAARRD funded five projects under this initiative.

The first project captured the dynamic linkages between small pelagic and primary production through satellite images and models for better resource management in the Bohol Sea and the Zamboanga Peninsula.

The other projects tackled how to sustain the sardine fishery industry through a better understanding of the time and space dynamics affecting sardines in the Zamboanga Peninsula and Bohol Sea System, early life stage mortality and recruitment, assessment of the sardine fisheries in the waters of Tawi-Tawi, and molecular technology-based assessment of the sustainability of sardine fisheries.

The program is expected to reduce the depletion of the stock and the decline of sardine production in the country while providing science-based inputs to policies on the conservation and management of the sardine fisheries.

Consistent with its commitment of providing “science based know-how and tools that enable the agriculture sector to raise productivity to world class standards,” PCAARRD is also currently supporting sardine supply chain and impact assessment of the closed season for sardine fisheries.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2017 issue.