Labeling of fish balls sought

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Sunday, August 17, 2014


PARTICIPANTS of the recently concluded Philippine Shark Summit call for proper labeling of fish and squid balls and tempura to ensure that the popular street food does not contain shark meat.

Activities related to the summit included a campaign called, “No shark in our fish ball.”

Before the Shark Summit, which was held in Cebu, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed a proposed resolution calling for a legislative inquiry on the use of shark meat in fish balls in Cebu. The proposal, filed last month, cited the seizure of thresher shark meat in the City of Naga last June.

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The Cebu Provincial Anti-Illegal Task Force apprehended a truck carrying 467 kilos of thresher shark meat, skin and torso. The shipment was reportedly to be delivered to a fish ball processor in Lapu-Lapu City.

Not chopped

During the Shark Summit workshops, participants said fishing operators should be required to land their catch whole, not chopped, so authorities can detect if protected species were caught.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), one of the organizers of the summit, agreed with the need to review the National Plan of Action on the Conservation and Management of Sharks and assess fishing regulations that affect sharks.

Fishing practices, such as long line and drift long line, result in accidental catching of sharks. Some fishermen also target sharks and rays.

Shark fishing was practiced in the Philippines from 60s to the late 90s. The Visayan Sea was one of three important shark fishing grounds in the country.

A 1997 paper—presented during the Elasmobranch Biodiversity, Conservation and Management Workshop and written by Noel C. Barut and John S. Zartiga of BFAR—noted that shark meat was used to make fish ball even then. Shark fins were also exported along with squalene oil, which is derived from the liver of sharks.

Prohibition

Catching of threatened and endangered species, including several shark species, became prohibited only with the passage of Republic Act 8550 or the Fisheries Code of the Philippines in 1998.

The Philippine Biodiversity Indicators for Natural Use consider whale sharks, humpback whales and Irrawaddy dolphins as indicator species to assess the status of marine and coastal biodiversity.

Sharks play an important role in the marine ecosystem. According to the international organization Shark Savers, predatory sharks prey on the sick and the weak members of their prey populations, and some also scavenge the sea floor to feed on dead carcasses.

“By removing the sick and the weak, they (predatory sharks) prevent the spread of disease and prevent outbreaks that could be devastating.
Preying on the weakest individuals also strengthens the gene pools of the prey species. Since the largest, strongest, and healthiest fish generally reproduce in greater numbers, the outcome is larger numbers of healthier fish,” Shark Savers said in its website. “Sharks groom many populations of marine life to the right size so that those prey species don’t cause harm to the ecosystem by becoming too populous.”

Misconception

Since 1998, several national and local laws have been enacted to protect the country’s wildlife, including species of sharks and rays that are also protected internationally.

But Shark Summit participants admitted that the protection of sharks is a daunting task, especially because of public misconception about the species. They cited movies like, “Jaws,” which portrayed sharks as human-eating predators.

Jean Utzurrum of the Silliman University Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences said scientific information about sharks ought to be translated into the local language so communities would have a better understanding about the species.

Summit participants also raised the need to convert scientific information into layperson’s language and to develop creative ways to spread knowledge to the public. (LAP)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 17, 2014.

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