by Purita S. Licas
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is leaving no conservation stone unturned if only to finally embark on the gargantuan task of protecting an endemic fish species of Cagayan Valley, perceived to be at the brink of extinction.
Like the tamaraws of Mindoro and the Philippine eagle of Davao, Ludong (Cestraeus plicatilis) should not be allowed to go extinct as it is considered a national treasure, according to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
“We should not allow it to go the way other species went as it is nature’s gift to us. If we do, it will be a loss to the present and future generations,” Alcala said during the launching of the Oplan Sagip Lusong last year.
It’s a tough job for the fisheries agency even if the present dispensation has approved the 6.5 million pesos initial budget for the project now based at the Regional Fishermen’s Training Center in Aparri, Cagayan.
“This is the second attempt of the government to protect the species,” Oplan Sagip Ludong project leader Evelyn Ame said.
In 2000, BFAR initiated the first Oplan Sagip Ludong which was based in Dagupan, Pangasinan, to conserve the species and breed them in captivity. However, the agency admitted the project did not fully meet the objective considering perhaps the distance of Dagupan from Aparri where most of the spawners are caught.
Efforts to regulate the catch started as early as 1952 with the issuance of Fisheries Order (FO) No. 31. This order prohibits the capture, purchae, sale, preparation and serving of the fish for private and pubic consumption during the months of October to January as these are on their spawning migration.
It likewise prohibits the use of tabukol, tabak or pateng along the Cagayan River and its tributaries including the Santa-Abra river system in the Ilocos. However, the order caused an uproar among the fisherfolk that the government was forced to lift the first FO on Ludong.
In 1982, Director Jovita P. Ayson said Fisheries Administrative Order No. 139 established a close season of five years to catch, take, sell, possess and transport mullets in all inland bodies of water in the Philippines.
The province of Isabela followed suit that in 1997, its Sangguniang Panlalawigan issued an ordinance similar to that of the 1982’s, only that the penalty of 5,000 pesos and imprisonment of not exceeding one year was considered too low.
Under Republic Act 8550, otherwise known as the Philippine Fisheries Coce of 1998, it states that rare, threatened and endangered species shall be protected. The task was given to BFAR through the Department of Agriculture.
During the issuance of these orders and Republic Act, no one was found guilty of violating them, thus conservationists believed the culprits were having their honeymoon.
Director Ayson lamented that while Fisheries Administrative Order 208 was issued for the conservation or rare, threatened and endangered species, only species listed under the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species were included.
It was a big blow to BFAR as ludong was not one of them.
Even FAO No. 16 of 2001 did not help as its main prohibition was only on obstruction to navigation and does not include disturbance on the migratory path of the fish.
Unfaxed, stakeholders of Oplan Sagip Ludong has proposed for the amendment of FAO 31 where a stiffer penalty of 80,000 pesos and or imprisonment of six months and one day to eight years will be imposed.
“The penalty plus the revocation of the fisherman’s permit will make them think twice,” Ayson said.
Ayson sits as the chair of the Ludong Task Force with the various governors of the region’s provinces as vice chair.
She said that the conservation and protection aspect of the project falls on the shoulders of the provincial local government units as they are expected to enact local ordinances adopting the soon-to-be issued amendments to FAO 31. The Philippine Information Agency remains chair of the Information Education and Communication (IEC)/advocacy committee.
In the next few months, DA-BFAR, the academe, LGUs and other stakeholders will have their hands full as the Oplan is guided by an agreed direction to attain its mission.
Dr. Evelyn Ame said in-depth and thorough research to serve as basis for breeding the species and in the implementation of conservation measures to save the fish from extinction will be conducted.
This early, five proposed research activities have been identified and approved by BFAR for immediate implementation including the Ludong’s taxonomic identification, genetic structure, characteristics, marketing and soil and water assessment.
For the stakeholders, it’s still a long way to go and the road to conservation may be treacherous and dangerous like the 200 to 300-kilometer distance a Ludong takes if only to lay its eggs at the mouth of the Cagayan River. #