BFAR set to impose close fishing season for ‘tirong’

(Logo grabbed from BFAR-Central office's Facebook)
(Logo grabbed from BFAR-Central office's Facebook)

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO — Fishermen in the coastal town of Masinloc take advantage of the swarming patterns of the tirong (Pterocaesio tile) for an easy catch of the juvenile fish, which is a main ingredient in making fish paste (bagoong tirong). But unknown to many, if allowed to mature, the fish would end up on our home plates as dalagang bukid.

But heavy fishing and local demand have resulted in a decreasing number of tirong, prompting the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in Central Luzon to initiate measures to implement a closed fishing season to let key fishing grounds recover.

“Tirong is used to make that special bagoong, but unknown to many, those juvenile tirong end up growing into dalagang bukid. However, without harvest control measures in place, we cannot be sure that enough stocks will grow and mature,” BFAR Regional Director Willy Cruz told this reporter.

Why tirong?

According to BFAR briefers, tirong is a schooling fish. Juveniles tend to appear in large numbers, making them easy to catch by local fisherfolk since these young fish usually gather in shallow lagoons and reef flats. Aside from fish paste, tirong is also used to make fish sauce.

Tirong is an easy meal for local fishing communities and is considered a local delicacy. Bagoong tirong is also a delicacy in Pangasinan province. It is usually fried or sometimes cooked in a batter of egg and flour. Tirong also has commercial uses as fish bait for other large fishes like tuna. It is easy to store and is often preserved in salt.

The flexibility of the tirong makes it heavily exploited in the grounds where it thrives. A BFAR report places tirong within a high vulnerability estimate based on an initial stock assessment of data on the fish covering three years.

First closed fishing season for tirong

In January 2019, BFAR issued Administrative Order 263 establishing 12 FMAs, with each management board “required to develop policies and programs for the area based on an ecosystems approach to fisheries management, as well as local government ordinances that will provide the governance framework for sustainable management of the FMA.” FMA 6 is one of 12 FMAs established by the BFAR.

FMA 6 covers much of the fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea along the areas of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Bataan, Bulacan, Pampanga, Zambales, Batangas, Cavite, and Metro Manila. Central Luzon has one of the longest coastlines in Luzon with some 332 kilometers in Aurora, 192 kilometers in Manila Bay, and 110 in Zambales.

BFAR Regional Director Willy Cruz said that they are now in their scoping process for tirong. He added that once the report from the FMA 6 science advisory group comes in, it is most likely that they will implement harvest control measures. Cruz said that the initiative had already gone through consultation and was received positively by local fisherfolk.

“If there are seven days when this tirong would swarm, we might impose that our fisherfolk would only fish for tirong for three days, and the rest of the days will fall under the closed season to allow enough recovery,” Cruz said.

The stock assessment program of FMA 6 is also considering other fish species to be placed under a closed fishing season. The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, which was amended in 2015, defines the closed fishing season as “the period during which the taking of specified fishery species by a specified fishing gear is prohibited in a specified area or areas in Philippine waters.” The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 also provides penalties for closed fishing season violators.

Support for fisherfolk

Nora Abueg, 57, is a processed fish vendor and married to a fisherman. She would buy tirong aside from the ones caught by her husband and process them into bagoong to be sold to local clients. She said that the demand for tirong comes from its unique taste as a local side dish delicacy, prompting brisk sales.

“We welcome implementing closed fishing season for certain days. Hopefully, the government can help fisherfolk who would be affected,” she added.

BFAR Regional Director Willy Cruz assured that alternative livelihood programs will be provided for fisherfolk affected by the closed season. One alternative, according to Cruz, is the mangrove reforestation program, where farmers can earn from the planting of propagules and the care of new mangrove plantations.

“We are also considering other possible support. Right now, we do not yet have the number of affected fisherfolk,” Cruz added.

Cruz mentioned that the seven-year Philippine Fisheries and Coastal Resiliency (FishCoRe) Project will also benefit fisherfolk in terms of various interventions. The BFAR said that the FishCoRe program aims to “develop and implement appropriate fisheries management policies, improve institutional capacities for strengthened law enforcement, establish support facilities for the rehabilitation of coastal and marine habitats, and other necessary investments to balance increasing productivity while conserving the country’s natural resources.”

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