SAMAR Sea will be closed to commercial fishers for four months this year to replenish the stocks of small fishes, which have declined after decades of destructive fishing.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Eastern Visayas Director Juan Albaladejo said they have been meeting with mayors in towns bordering the Samar Sea for the enforcement of the fishing ban from April to July.

“The Samar Sea has a yield of 2.8 metric tons per square kilometer. This is below the sustainable yield of 3 to 10 metric tons. It’s low, but manageable. If we will do proper closure, we will restore the production to sustainable levels,” Albaladejo said.

The closure aims to protect the spawning season of small pelagic fishes, such as the nemipterus, short mackerel, big-eye scad, sardines and some demersal fish species.

“The Sea will still be open to small fishermen since they can only catch three to 10 kilograms per trip. So long as they will use friendly fishing gears, it will not have an impact on the spawning of fishes,” said Albaladejo.

BFAR will introduce seaweed production and shellfish culture as alternative sources of income for affected fishermen, he added.

The Samar Sea is a small sea situated between the Bicol region and Eastern Visayas. It is bordered by the islands of Samar to the east, Leyte to the south, Masabate to the west, and Luzon to the north.

It covers the coastal waters of Almagro, Tagapul-an, Sto. Niño, Gandara, Sta. Margarita, Tarangnan, Daram, Pagsangjan and Zumarraga in Samar province.

According to a 1993 study conducted by Jurgen Saeger, a German fisheries development specialist, the Samar Sea has experienced a significant degradation of marine resources. Before 1981, there were 50 commercial fish species, but in 10 years, the figure was reduced to only 10 due to overfishing and illegal activities.

The expert found that the deforestation of surrounding lands has led to increased silt from denuded mountains that choke coral reefs. Only some five percent of reefs are considered to be in a healthy condition.

Another result of the increased silt is the red tide bloom, which first occurred in Samar Sea in 1983. Since then, the phenomenon has continued to occur in Samar Sea at irregular intervals.

The fishing ban was supposed to be enforced early last year, but it did not push through due to the election season. (PNA)