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Cagayan eel threatened by dramatic surge in demand, prices, and uncontrolled gathering

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TUGUEGARAO CITY, Cagayan – Fisheries officials in northern Luzon are expressing alarm over the rampant gathering of eel fry in the coastal towns of Cagayan, and in a recent meeting called for measures to regulate harvest of the indigenous fish species.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for Region 2 (BFAR-2) says reports from the field indicate excessive, widespread and unceasing exploitation of eels in Cagayan following a sudden rise in the buying price of eel fry.

"Our seashore and estuaries almost look like fiestas at night due to lights being used by the gatherers. Some non-residents have even ventured into our area prompting us to issue an Executive Order prohibiting the use of tanggar - a fishing gear used in the gathering of eel fry, as measure to stop gathering," Richard Alibania, municipal agriculturist of Sta. Ana, said.

Other LGUs report that tensions have flared among fishermen as they joust for position in prime gathering areas.

The current gathering frenzy is a result of the attractive buying price of the eel fry, which today stands at P17,000 to P20,000 per kilo compared to last year's P2,500. Fishing areas encompassed practically all coastal towns in northern Cagayan.

Eel fry also known as elvers or "dalara" in Ilocano, has long been gathered by fishermen primarily in the town of Aparri. The live fry are sold to buyers in Manila who then export these to other Asian countries. "Other countries have succeeded in eel grow-out technology but not yet in hatchery technology which prompt them to import fry from us," Dr. Evelyn Ame, chief of the resource management division of BFAR-2, said.

Eel is a delicacy in Japanese restaurants and is also preferred by the Chinese and Koreans who believe that its blood is a source of "strength" for men.

Dr. Jovita Ayson, regional director of BFAR-2 here, has called on the local officials and legislators, and fisherfolk leaders who attended the meeting to craft measures to regulate gathering of eel fry. BFAR suggested the imposition of limits on fishing gears to be deployed on certain areas, and the declaration of some potential fishing grounds as off-limits reserves. Fisheries authorities also called for the setting of maximum catch quotas for gatherers.

"Fishery law enforcement in municipal waters where these elvers are caught are already within jurisdiction of LGUs. However, BFAR RO2 will render technical assistance as to the preparation of municipal fishery ordinance which is needed to manage and protect eel as well as other indigenous species," Ayson said.

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