DAVAO Gulf is well-known for being host to a vast number of aquatic resources, most notably housing a number of fish species endemic to the area. For years the underwater bounty is one of the things that Southern Mindanao has been known for, however, it seems the years of tapping into that resource has finally caught up with the people.
Research done by Jose A. Villanueva in 2008 was presented to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Regional Office XI, Selar crumenophthalmus or Matambaka and Auxis Rochei or Budboron, which account for both 33 percent and 10 percent of the catch from Davao Gulf, respectively, are caught at small size, way before their first sexual maturity stage.
More alarming, however, is the declining trend in the length of first capture of the Budboron fish. From being caught at an average of 25 inches in 1999, the fish’s average length upon first capture in 2008 was only 16 inches. With year-round fishing and no rest for the fish, it would make sense that the trend has been followed, and five years after 2008, the Budboron should be considerably smaller than 16 inches at first catch.
Additionally, fishing vessels have been catching a surplus of fish, with statistics showing that the catches yielded in the years 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2008 have exceeded Davao Gulf’s maximum sustainable yield, which is the amount of fish that can be caught while keeping the Davao Gulf a sustainable source of fish. With no change in practices since then and fishing being done throughout the year, it would be safe to say that the trend has continued and the catch has been exceeding the maximum sustainable yield for several years already.
This data shows that the Davao Gulf is suffering from both growth overfishing and recruitment overfishing. Growth overfishing is the act of catching fish which have not fully grown and recruitment overfishing is the act of catching too many adult fish that very few are left to reproduce and spawn more young. If such fishing practices continue, it is possible, according to a presentation of Francisco Torres Jr. of the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, to reach a point where the catch will no longer increase and that continued catching will decrease the amount of fish that fishing vessels can catch.
Jerry V. Dela Cerna, former mayor of Governor Generoso in Davao Oriental and current manager of Barog Katawhan sa Governor Generoso, spoke with fisherfolk in the municipality and learned of the decline of the catch of fish in the Davao Gulf. According to him, he contacted BFAR last June 2012, but received no reply until the second week of September, a week before BFAR was to hold a consultation with various sectors for the proposed solution to the growing problem: banning commercial fishing in Davao Gulf for a year.
The banning of commercial fishing, as defined by the drafted administrative order of BFAR, only applied to “the taking of fishery species by passive or active gear for trade, business or profit beyond subsistence or sports fishing,” and the use of fishing vessels weighing 3.1 gross tons up to 150 gross tons. Furthermore, only the use of Ring Net ang Bagnet are banned for the duration, while other fishing methods such as the use of a hook and line are still allowed during the period so that fishers do not completely lose their livelihood during the ban.
It was last September 16-18 that BFAR XI held the consultation. On the first day, they consulted members of the academe, who deemed a closed season for fishing as a better alternative. The initial proposed closed season was from July to October for five consecutive years, the months being selected to protect the migratory season where fish gather in Davao Gulf.
On the second day, during the consultation with operators of fishing vessels, it was raised that the July to October period was the spawning season, but the fishers requested for only a three month closed season, and preferred a January to March period, citing it as a time that fish are growing. One of the operators suggested a December to February closed season for the interests of both groups to meet halfway. One of the concerns of the commercial fishing vessel operators, however, is if their “payaos” or fish aggregating devices will be safe from poaching by illegal and unlicensed fishers. The BFAR, meanwhile, said that they will enforce means to protect these.
On the third day, the local government executives agreed with the closed season as well. Now all that’s left is to draft another administrative order to be reviewed by the BFAR national director, National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council, Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture. BFAR Regional Director Fatma Idris said that the earliest that they hope to have the Fishery Administrative Order is early next year.
Dela Cerna said that this development is a “challenge to commercial fishers,” saying that they should “pay back the gulf” for their profits.
Although it seems a bit late to take measures to mitigate the years of fishing that have depleted the gulf’s resources, some of the presenters during the consultation said, “it’s better late than never.” Indeed, it is better to have these solutions implemented later, than for the fish resources to be depleted and forever lose the bounty of the Davao Gulf.