Wonder no more if the galunggong (scad) or the sardines you see on your table seem to be getting smaller every day.

The country's most affordable and popular fish is getting fewer and smaller as major marine grounds have become heavily exploited over the years, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said on Monday.

The BFAR said the population and size of small pelagic fish species-such as sardines, matambaka (ox-eye scad) and galunggong-were dwindling due to overfishing.

According to the national stock assessment program of BFAR, of 13 fishing grounds that had been mapped, 10 areas are "very heavily exploited." These areas have over 70 fishermen per square kilometer.

"The findings are indicative that we should reduce fishing activities in certain areas," Benjamin Tabios, BFAR assistant director, told to the media. 

The heavily exploited waters are located in the Lingayen Gulf, northern Zambales, Visayan Sea, Camotes Sea, Honda Bay, Babuyan Channel, Lagonoy Gulf, Sorsogon Bay, Hinatuan and Dinagat Bay, and Davao Gulf.

Preying on young

The rest of the country's coastline is considered heavily exploited with anywhere from two up to 70 fishermen scouring each square kilometer of sea, the BFAR said.

These days the average size of sardines caught in the country is 13 centimeters. Sardines this size are less than a year old.
"This means that they are being fished while they are young. There is high fishing activity," said Nygiel Armada, BFAR's fisheries management adviser.

The species are considered mature when they reach 2 to 3 years old. This is the ideal time they should be caught, when they reach between 15 to 20 cm, Armada said.

$769m a year.

Tabios said the government and commercial fishers should find a way to manage fishing in the exploited areas to ensure that Filipinos would have enough fish in the future, as well as employment in the industry.

According to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the country's fishing industry employs 1.5 million people. It exports an estimated $769 million worth of fish every year, said the commission.

One way of preserving fish stocks is to impose a closed season to let the parent stock breed, Tabios said. Another way is to establish fish sanctuaries to allow the fish population to grow.

Food security.

If the Philippines fails to reduce fishing activity in its archipelagic waters, its food security will be at risk, according to Armada.
"The parent stocks will be gone. There won't be a new generation of species. Our food security will be affected," he said to the media.

Armada said overfishing had already become apparent in the sardines industry.

Source of protein

Armada said it was important for the government to preserve the population of small pelagic species, noting that these species were the most affordable and common source of protein for ordinary Filipinos.

"These are the building blocks of our food security," he stressed.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, small pelagic fishes account for half of Philippine seafood catches.

Philippine sardines are also canned and exported, providing livelihood to thousands of Filipinos, Armada said. Local canneries sell their products to Australia, Canada, China, Europe and the United States.

3-month ban

Armada said the BFAR was considering imposing a closed season for sardines in the waters of Zamboanga del Norte, where canneries are located.
He said the BFAR had proposed a ban on the fishing of sardines for one to three months to let the parent stocks breed.

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