The country may expect imported canned sardines to cost a fortune in the coming months as the Pacific Fishery Management Council in the U.S. has banned sardine fishing starting June 1.
U.S. regulators said schools of oily sardines are absent from fishing waters, and the biomass has dipped from more than one million metric tons (MMT) caught in 2007 to 96,688 MT for the entire 2015.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has been regularly slapping closed seasons for sardines during the third or fourth quarters of last year in the hope of shoring up the sardine population.
BFAR director Asis Perez claimed that such fishing bans have been complied by 96 percent of commercial fishermen, resulting in the closing of canneries in the Zamboanga Peninsula.
In the case of the U.S., Dan Nosowitz wrote in his article “Regulators Vote To Halt All Pacific Sardine Fishing” that appeared in the April 17, 2015 issue of Modern Farmer, the ban comes after a “desperately bad season.”
He theorized that overfishing has something to do with disappearance of sardines.
Nosowitz stressed that “sardines are typically used as bait for larger fish, like salmon and tuna, and are also used to feed fish in fish farms. They make up a hugely important part of the edible fish ecosystem.”
Sardines are important for tuna fishermen, stressed Perez, since it is staple food for the large fish.
Bigeye tuna, which are populous in the Philippines, consume sardines, which are known to concentrate upon nearing schools of tuna or whales, forming what has now been dubbed as sardine balls.
With sardines disappearing from the cold waters of the Pacific, big schools of blue fin tuna are expected to swim further north in search of anchovies and other smaller food fish as alternatives to sardines.
However, anchovies themselves are also disappearing, which prompted Peru to ban the catch of the principal ingredient of fish meal late last year.
As early as June 2014, fishmeal prices rose as Peru’s catch dipped, with schools of anchovies went down south as oceanic temperatures rose, and indication that El Nino was going to recur.
WHAT’S BEING DONE
Filipino scientists are aware of the impact of higher fish meal prices and work is being undertaken for plant-based substitutes.
Work on developing new crop-based aquafeed has been supported by Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca), including the work in Tarlac that led experiments on aquafeed that is based on sweet potato.
Dr. Joebert Toledo, formerly the director of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center-Aquaculture Department (Seafdec-AQD) in Iloilo, is working on developing an alternative to the fishmeal and fish oil from Peru for aquafeed.
He is working with Feedmix, a company based in Bulacan that is engagd in breeding fish and fish processing, and his task includes seeking plant-based alternatives with up to 40 percent protein content.
Virgilio Marzo, an aquaculturist who trained at the University of the Philippines College of Fisheries (UPCF), Taiwan, Germany and Saudi Arabia, is also collaborating with fishpond owners to develop aquafeed that has balanced Omega 3 and Omega 6 content and crude protein higher than international standards.
China itself has started to wean itself away from dependence on Peruvian fishmeal and is buying more from Southeast Asia, Morocco and Panama.
Norway and Denmark are also trying to get a slice of the China fishmeal market as well as secure a toehold in Vietnam, a major buyer of Peruvian fishmeal.