OCEANA, a non-government association, said the government must manage the sardine fishery more systematically to ensure food security during national emergencies and generate jobs.

It said the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources must roll out the National Sardines Management Plan for the resource, which is not only a widely-used food source but also a driver of economic activity for small businesses.

“The sardine industry is an important economic driver providing jobs and livelihood, for small-scale entrepreneurs in the dried and smoked sector, and for factory workers in the canning and bottling sectors,” Oceana said.

In a statement, lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, an Oceana vice-president, said the management plan will allow the industry to set realistic business goals by better organizing biological, economic, and social information regarding the fishery.

“The approval of the National Sardines Management Plan is not only imperative for the sectors dependent on this industry for their economic interests. With the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, we saw again how important this is for our food security and health,” Ms. Ramos said.

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) polling organization and Oceana, 70% of Filipinos eat fish or seafood five days in each month while three out 10 adults eat sardines at least once a month.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, sardines accounted for 15% of the marine fishery over the last 15 years, with the industry averaging 333,743 metric tons a year.

“Aside from being a preferred food for our urban households, poor fishermen have been dependent on sardines for their food and livelihood. It is an important fish for the Philippines as we take pride in nine species found in different parts of the country,” Ms. Ramos said.

Ms. Ramos said the sardine fishery has been beset by overfishing, which can be prevented with a science-based, cohesive, and sustainable management plan.

The National Sardines Management Plan has undergone several public hearings and consultations over the past three years and has been recommended for approval by the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave