The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) had claimed there have been conservation efforts to preserve tawilis as early as 2013, particularly the implementation of a closed fishing season in the area.
BusinessWorld/File
DENR, BFAR move to protect tawilis
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) may have failed to fully implement the closed fishing season in Taal Lake that placed tawilis on the list of endangered species.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) had claimed there have been conservation efforts to preserve tawilis as early as 2013, particularly the implementation of a closed fishing season in the area.

“BFAR recommended that before but I think they (DENR) did not fully implement it. We are now reiterating that they study and really implement the closed fishing season,” BFAR director Eduardo Gongona said.

“I think we are also somewhat at fault because we failed to repeat and remind them that they should implement it. But now, we really need the closed fishing season to improve production and preserve the habitat and its productivity,” he added.

Taal Lake, part of the Taal Volcano Protective Landscape, is primarily under supervision of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), a multi-sectoral body chaired by the DENR. BFAR is also a member of the PAMB.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) just placed tawilis on the list of endangered species. Data showed tawilis has recorded a 49 percent decline over the last 10 years.

“We do not have enough patrols, we only have three boats and we just relied on the groups of fishermen who committed that they are ready to comply for the conservation,” DENR Region 4 officer-in-charge executive director Maria Paz Luna told The STAR in a separate interview.

“But I don’t think it was a lapse on the part of the PAMB. BFAR itself has their own enforcement and they monitor the catch so if there is anyone who will know if there is a violation on the closed fishing, it will be BFAR,” she added.

For the past seven to eight years, Luna said only two weeks are being allotted for closed fishing season but new research showed that two months, or from March to April, should have been implemented.

“It was only later on that we found out that it was not the right period because spawning of tawilis changes. So now, starting March, the new research will take effect,” Luna said.

“We should also take into consideration the health of the habitat, the water quality and other illegal fishing methods. So instead of pointing fingers at one another, we should just help each other,” she added.

The regional officers of DENR and BFAR are set to meet next week to discuss other management measures to address the issue.

The BFAR is also looking at reports that the decline was caused by the increasing number of fish pens and cages in the area.

“As of December 2018, PAMB records showed that there are 6,277 units fish cages in the area and the number should be just 10 percent of the total water area. We are looking into that,” Gongona said.

The fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the overpopulation of Taal Lake by large fish pens was the main factor for the decline of tawilis.

Pamalakaya said the aquaculture operations of large fish pens in Taal Lake are causing “ecological imbalance” that led to the decline of the local fish species.

The group said the tilapia fish, one of the major aquaculture operations in Taal Lake, prey on the eggs of tawilis and other native fish species in the lake.

“The intensification of culture leads to a bio-invasive fish taking over the population of native fish species in Taal Lake. We are not pinning the blame on tilapia, but to the incessant drive to increase and expand fishpen structures as well as unsustainable aquaculture practices in Taal Lake by big fish-firms who monopolize the inland water,” Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said.

Hicap pointed out that under the Fisheries Code, “only ten percent of the surface area of the lakes and rivers may be allotted for aquaculture purposes.”

Pamalakaya said that with its total area of 23, 420 hectares, Taal Lake has only a carrying capacity of 2,342 hectares for aquaculture.

The group said more than 5,000 aquaculture structures are currently operating in Taal Lake, which means that it has probably already exceeded its maximum carrying capacity.

Sardinella tawilis is endemic to a single location in the Philippines – Taal Lake in Batangas.

Tawilis, also known by its common name Bombon sardine, is one of a few marine species trapped within the lake that has evolved into a purely freshwater species. It is also the sole freshwater species of Sardinella.

The IUCN already said there are major threats to the survival of tawilis due to “overexploitation, pollution and competition and/or predation with introduced fishes, resulting in continuing declines in habitat quality and number of mature individuals.”

The IUCN also noted that “catches of this species have declined significantly since at least 1998, and it is estimated that harvest has declined by about 49 percent over the past 10 years.”

“Fishing effort using illegal gear which target this species in the lake is increasing, but at this time the rate of increase has not been quantified specifically,” the group added.

Assessment made by IUCN added “this species, and Taal Lake, are considered high priorities for conservation by the Philippine government.”

The IUCN is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. – With Elizabeth Marcelo

DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES TAAL LAKE TAWILIS
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