The group of fishermen from different towns forming Samahan ng mga Mangingisda sa Palawan assembles outside the provincial capitol to extend their appeal on suspending closed fishing season. | Photos from Jilson De Real

Jilson De Real, a fisherman from Aborlan who has depended on catching live groupers or suno for about two decades, has been unable to go out to sea for the most part of the fishing season since September last year due to constant bad weather and harsh monsoons.

Like many other fishermen dependent on the live fish trade, De Real is hoping to make up for lost opportunities during this coming summer. Unfortunately for him, the government had already put a closed fishing ban in place to protect fish stocks and keep them from running out.

De Real has joined other fishermen who fish for live grouper in asking the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) to end the ban on fishing in April and May.

“Napakalaking kalugian lalo na itong dalawang buwan na magkasunod, April at May. Maganda ang kita sa mga ganitong buwan, gawa na nakakababad kami. At kahit tag-P1,000 lang, napakaliit na halaga ang bili sa aming mga produkto, dahil nakakababad kami, makaka-limang libo kami,” he said.

The PCSD is set to meet this week to discuss, among other things, yet another appeal from live fish traders and fishermen to lift the suspension this summer. It had yielded to such appeals on several occasions since the passage of PCSD Revised Admin Order No. 05, S. 2014.

De Real is part of the organization Samahan ng mga Mangingisda sa Palawan (SaMPa), which has petitioned the PCSD and the provincial government to lift the season ban, in consideration of the economic condition.

“Napaka-harsh sa amin ng sitwasyon, inaasahan namin na itong dalawang buwan ay makakabawi kami,” de Real said.

The season ban was imposed based on marine research findings that determined the spawning season of the highly-priced “suno” grouper.

“Based sa science sabi nila, ito yong panahon ng spawning season ng suno kaya gusto namin i-revisit yong aspeto na yon. Inaapila namin na hindi lang alisin ngayong taon baka pwedeng alisin na talaga sa kabuuhan,” he said.

De Real’s group is asking authorities to also consider the economic condition of fishermen. He said that apart from the constant monsoons, the rising cost of fuel has made it difficult for them to sustain their livelihood.

PCSD Joint Committee Session Agenda
The PCSD has invited fishermen’s groups to the session of the Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Legal Affairs on Friday.

PCSD spokesperson Jovic Fabello said the appeal will be on the session’s agenda.

“Ang scenario kasi pwedeng series of deliberations or at one setting, makapagdesisyon agad sila. Kung ano ang recommendation ng joint committee, yon na ang i-approve ng council, yes, ganon ang mangyayari,” Fabello said.

Timeline of closed fishing season
The closed fishing season is through PCSD Revised Admin Order No. 05, S. 2014. It is implemented to address the declining catch of the three species of RFF in the province, namely: Leopard Coral Trout or Red Suno (Plectropomus leopardus), Green Grouper or Loba (Epinephelus coioides), and Tiger Grouper or Lapung-baboy (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus).

The season will be closed from June 16 to August 31, and again from October 16 to December 15. Open season, on the other hand, is set from January 1 to June 15, and from September 1 to October 15.

The implementation of the ban was first suspended in 2015 following an appeal by fishermen. On June 16, 2017, PCSD Resolution 17-587, moved the ban to the period from November to March.

“Nag-request na naman ang ating mga kapatid na mangingisda na sa aming lugar hindi ganyan, sa ibang lugar ay ganyan. Siguro dapat ay baguhin natin ang period ng closed season. Pinagbigyan na naman sila, nabago ang period ng closed season,” Fabello said.

Following the amendment, the council granted the request on December 16, 2017, through Resolution 17-607 to suspend the implementation for a year, provided that the local government unit (LGU) should declare 30 percent of its municipal waters as a marine protected area, rehabilitate the damaged coral reef areas with fishermen, provide livelihood opportunities to affected stakeholders and strengthen law enforcement.

But Fabello said the four provisions were not implemented, which prompted the lifting of the suspension and full and restricted implementation through Resolution 19-670 on July 25, 2019.

A request for amendment of the seasonal control was made due to socio-economic reasons, and the closed season was modified for October 21 and 24, 2019. A manifesto of commitment was signed by the League of Municipalities of Palawan, RFF traders, and catchers for the protection and conservation of RFF and to comply with four provisions on November 8.

The closed season continues from 2020 until fishermen request a suspension in the middle of 2021 and reduce the application from three months to one and a half months.

Fabello stressed that the 2022 request was also granted by the council. The inconsistent implementation of the closed season makes it difficult to assess the fish stocks of three species, he added.

“Ngayong 2023 ay nagrirequest na naman sila na huwag i-implement at yon ang issue natin ngayon sa kanila. Bakit sa tuwing i-implement si closed season ay nagrequest kayo nang request na hindi i-implement?” he asked.

Hope for lifting closed season
For fishermen of Barangay Apurawan in Aborlan, they need to earn money from two weeks of fishing to sustain themselves for the next couple of weeks that they will not sail due to bad weather, he said. They might resort to borrowing money from a nearby store or from relatives to survive their needs if savings are not enough.

If it is allowed in the months of April and May, De Real, and other fishermen could have a chance to earn P5,000 to P10,000 by staying in the ocean for just three days.

“Matagal na kami nag-suffer sa closed (fishing) season na ito— Gusto namin na i-revisit nila kasi ganon na lang madalas ang aming ginagawa. May mga taon na hindi na kami nagrireklamo— pero kapag kami ay said na said na at kumakalam na ang mga sikmura ng aming mga mahal sa buhay, napipilitan kaming bumaba talaga,” De Real said.

Fabello, on the other hand, said that it will still be figured out at Friday’s session if there will be a series of deliberations to address the appeal. Aside from De Real’s group, Kawil Amianan also made an appeal for suspension in January, which was not granted by the council.