Sardine conservation measures paying off

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Closing the waters in the Zamboanga peninsula and the Basilan straits during spawning season has led to an increase in the sardine catch in 2012, according to fisheries officials.

 Fisheries bureau chief Asis Perez said that the sardine catch nationwide grew by 90,000 metric tons or close to 30%. The increase came just a year after the implementation of a government conservation measure to protect declining commercial fish stocks in the country.

Encouraging results

“Initial results are very encouraging,” Perez told fisheries officials and reporters during the ceremonial lifting of the 3-month ban on sardine fishing in Zamboanga over the weekend.

He said scientific studies would be expanded as the annual closure continues.

“We are looking at the scientific correlations of the closure to the 10% increase in local tuna catch and landings (also last year),” Perez said, adding that a similar conservation measure is being implemented in the Visayas.

“Luzon will follow this year,” Perez added.

Sardines output

The 3-month closure of the southeastern Mindanao seas to sardine catching took effect from December 1, 2012 to March 1, 2013.

The Philippines produces close to 400,000 metric tons of sardines and herring-like species every year, with the majority of the catch ending up in sardine canning factories.

Eleven of the country’s 12 sardine canning plants are located in the Zamboanga peninsula. Among the canning plants is Permex, the producer of the MEGA sardine brands.

Manufacturers told fisheries officials that sardine deliveries to the canning plants in Zamboanga increased by 25 to 30 per cent in 2012. The period was the first immediate season after the closure was first implemented in 2011.

Perez said neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia are impressed with the country’s success in conserving sardine stocks and may adopt similar measures.

“We have common stocks with Malaysia and Indonesia,” Perez said.

He said that the Zamboanga peninsula reported the highest compliance rate among the areas covered by the closure.

Spawning grounds

Perez led the deployment of payaws or fish aggregating devices (FADs), together with local government and BFAR officials in Mindanao, off the coasts of Lamitan City in Basilan.

The country’s largest concentration of sardines is found in Zamboanga Peninsula, Sulu Sea and Basilan Strait .The areas are also along spawning grounds of yellowfin tuna and other tuna-like species.

In 2010, the Philippine government and sardines producers agreed to close the area to catching during the spawning season. Sardines are on the top of the food chain of the migratory tuna stocks. 

Over the last decade, however, the sardine catch steadily declined due to overfishing. This prompted the government to close the fishing grounds in southwestern Mindanao to sardine catching for 3 months.