MAMBURAO, Occidental Mindoro—“Feast on fish this Lenten season,” a reminder from the government’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute said.
The Philippines’ devout Catholics observe the religious tradition of Lent with fasting or the denial of one’s lavish lifestyle and extravagant spending. It also includes the sacrifice or abstaining from eating meat.
Abstaining from eating meat, like pork, chicken, and red meat, and substituting it with fish is not at the expense of nutrient content. Fish caught from the sea is considered by many as the healthiest food.
“Eating fish may help lower risk for stroke, heart disease, cognitive decline, cancer, eye disease and mood problems due to the omega-3 fats they contain,” the FNRI said
This is the season that reminds the Filipino people to participate in and commemorate the sufferings and sacrifices Christ endured while hanging on the Cross in Golgotha.
This is one of the reasons why the islanders of Mamburao, the provincial capital town, held a simple celebration over the weekend of “Tuna Tonelada Festival,” a mixed showcase of faith and a fledgling but thriving tuna industry in this part of the Southern Tagalog.
Townsfolk, most of them fishermen, joined tuna-cooking and eating events, mardi gras, and street dancing as part of the festivies. Participants came from Mamburao’s several fishing villages.
Mamburao Mayor Voltaire Anthony C. Villarosa, 44, told newsmen that he initiated four years ago the annual celebration of the festival to promote the newfound livelihood of his people.
“Although it coincides with the observance of the Holy Season, the fish festival also focuses on the town’s emerging sustainable tuna fishing industry that has found a global market in Europe and elsewhere in the world,” Villarosa said.
Mayor Villarosa initiated the holding of the Tuna Tonelada Festival every full moon of March 7 every year to give chance to tuna fishermen to be recognized as major contributors to local economy.
Fisherfolk and their families participate in the town parade with their yellow-fin tunas on floats.
By tradition, fishermen do not set sail to sea during full moons. Fish are few and scattered all over the ocean because they are attracted by the bright moonlight.
“Yellow-fin tunas, so with the other fish species, are attracted by the light of the full moon, the reason why they are hardly caught,” explains Christopher Mauhay, 37, of Bgy. Tayamaan.
“Fishermen have a better and lucrative catch of yellow-fins during “tagdilim” (dark nights) or new moons. The fish gather together in schools under fish aggregating devices (FAD) or “payaw.”
School of yellow-fin tuna gather together under the “payaw” to feed and seek shelter (kanlungan). “They are attracted by bright artificial lights beamed from the fishermen’s boats the reason they are easily caught. Kung tag-bilog po ang buwan (full moon), sila ay wala sa ilalim ng payaw kaya mahirap hulihin,” Mauhay added.
“You can actually catch it anytime of the year,” Villarosa said.
The Mindoro Strait covering Occidental Mindoro is part of the West Philippine Sea. Mindoro Strait, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the government’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), is a “tuna highway” or the “natural pathway of various tuna species,” including the popular yellow-fin tuna, a gastronomic delight among European and Japanese fish eaters.
Investors from member-countries of the European Union visited Mamburao earlier this year to see for themselves how the yellow-fins are caught and processed.
“Europeans dislike tuna caught by pursein nets because they are damaged and do not taste well. They like our yellow fins caught here in Mamburao because of its high-quality. Our fisherfolk harvest them through the traditional use of ‘kawil’ or the handline method,” the mayor said.
Mamburao, a second class municipality, is the first local government unit in the Philippines to export handline-caught yellow fins to EU member-countries, such as Switzerland, London or the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Norway, he said.
As a top producer of rice in the Southern Tagalog region, Occidental Mindoro also thrives on its fishing industry. Out of the province’s eleven coastal municipalities, only five of them, Mamburao, Sablayan, Paluan, Sta. Cruz and Rizal, have “prevalent tuna handline fishing industry.”
Out of the five tuna producers, the WWF and the BFAR singled out Mamburao and Sablayan as the “gateways for tuna landing and trading.” This is so because Mamburao has 636 tuna handline fishermen while Sablayan has 917.
“The reason why Mindoro Strait is identified as a tuna highway because it lies in the natural path of three productive seas, namely, the West Philippine Sea, Sulu Sea, and the Verde Island Passage,” explains Mayor Villarosa during the recent Tuna Partnership Forum attended by EU foreign investors, WWF, and LGU Mamburao.
The stakeholders, including fishermen, signed a covenant under the theme: “For An Improved Fishery, I Support Tuna Sustainability.”
Mamburao, as the epicentre of tuna production in Occidental Mindoro through sustainable management, is the primary source of yellow-fins being exported to member-countries of the European Union because it is caught by handlines.
Jhoann Binondo, WWF-Philippines project manager, said by 2015, the fishery will enter into the Maritime Stewardship Council (MSC) certification process which aims to reach MSC certification in 2017.
“With the MSC ecolabel, the tuna from these handline fisheries can be readily recognized and accessed by (European) consumers,” the WWF said.
Confronted by issues facing the fishermen, the municipal government is focussed not only on giving livelihood to them, but also a good quality of life and lucrative income from sustainable artisanal tuna handline fishing.