The country’s marine resources is vast – 200 million hectares of coastal and oceanic territorial water area. But like the other vital resources such as forests, Philippine fisheries are about to collapse.
If people living the surrounding areas of Sogod Bay in Southern Leyte don’t watch out, soon there may be no more fish to catch in the bay’s waters. The warning comes from Dr. Salome Bulayog, an associate professor of the department of economics at the Visayas State University.
In an oral presentation during the annual conference convened by the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) in Phuket, Thailand recently, Dr. Bulayog said the aquatic marine resources in Sogod Bay have deteriorated as a result of overfishing.
Home to a variety of fi shes, Sogod Bay is a major fishing ground for the 11 municipalities that surround it.
“Mangko” or frigate tuna (scientific name: Euthynnus affinis) is its major fi shery resource. Seasonal influx of this shallow-water tuna species has provided food and livelihood to the people of Sogod and nearby municipalities.
A 1994 study by researchers from the Silliman University mentioned that there are seven finfish species that are pelagic and are harvested when they enter Sogod Bay. Recently, there have been reports of whale shark sightings in the bay.
“Frigate tuna used to abound in Sogod Bay and was a major source of income in the 70’s until the 90’s,” said Dr. Bulayog, who headed a study funded by EEPSEA. “But today, fishermen could hardly have fish catch.”
“Likewise, reef species population is also dwindling,” the study added. “Fishermen have to spend longer time to catch a kilogram of fish; some even have to farther from the shore.”
Natural calamities such as storm surge and sea level rise have been found to have contributed to the problem. The actual resource assessment done at the bay revealed that some of the coral reefs were damaged by the recent typhoon, Yolanda.
“The shallow coastal reefs of Sogod Bay have generally low cover of aquatic flora and fauna, especially towards the inner part of the bay,” the study bared. “It had been shown also that the status of the seaweeds and seagrasses in the six sampling stations were very poor.”
The declining dependence on fishing as income source for the residents has placed additional pressure on the agricultural lands in the uplands. “To augment their low income from fishing, some fishermen have resorted to farming,” the study said.
Agricultural lands in Sogod Bay, because of the topography and the absence of vegetation, are prone to erosion.
The soils are eroded downstream which further destroy the already degraded coral reefs. But there is a glimmer of hope for the people living near the Sogod Bay. Based on the results of the EEPSEA study, marine protected areas (MPAs) in the bay have been found to better cover of flora and fauna. MPAs also have the highest coral composition, live coral cover, and high species diversity, the study found.
MPAs are regions in which human activity has been placed under some restrictions in the interest of protecting the natural environment, its surrounding waters and the occupant ecosystems. “With the assistance of the local government units and other non-government organizations, more MPA’s can be established to put back the golden years of Sogod Bay,” the study suggested.
In addition, mangrove and coral reef transplantation must be encouraged among the residents living in the area.
“Who knows, Sogod Bay can still keep its name as one of the richest fishing ground in Southern Leyte if not in the country,” the study concluded. Fish are touted as “the last wild meal in the human diet.”
As fish are “poor man’s source of protein,” they are not given much thought by researchers. Unknowingly, the country’s municipal and commercial catch of fish have dramatically declined in recent years.
“We are running out of fish and running out of time. For a country known for marine biodiversity, there are very few fish left to catch,” Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, was quoted as saying.