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Is It The End For Ludong?

There was a time here in Ilocos Sur when the freshwater fish called Ludong was considered as an ordinary fish. Anytime of the day, ludong was caught by fishermen either by their hook and line or fishnets. In the afternoon, fish vendors would be shouting “Ludong, Ludong” just like how they market their tilapia nowadays. Ludong is a kind of fish found in Cagayan River and its tributaries and also in Abra River in the province of Abra that flows up to the towns of Santa, Bantay and Caoayan in Ilocos Sur province. Ludong is called Lobed River Mullet in English and Centraeus plicatilis in science. It resembles milk-fish (bangus) but with lesser fishbone. Its meat is white and fatty when cooked.

But because of the continuous illegal fishing, illegal logging and pollution from the wastes coming from the mining companies, slowly, the water of the rivers that serve as their habitat became dirty. Maybe that is the main reason for the possible extinction of the said fish. Based on the record of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Regional Field Office I, Ludong was last caught in the town of Caoayan, in 2004. That means, it is already five years since a Ludong appeared in Abra River on the part of Ilocos Sur. Other kinds of fishes which also became rare include Pigok (Tapiroid grunter), Lumitog (Bluespot Grey Mullet), different kinds of Gobi (locally known as Palileng, Birot, Bunog and Bukto) and other endemic fishes which were plentiful here before.

Based also on BFAR, RFO I records, a kilo of Ludong in Ilocos Sur now costs P2,000 while it is already a whooping P4,500 in Cagayan. A kilo of Pigok costs P600 in Ilocos Sur; P800 in Misamis Oriental; P1,500 in CARAGA while there are no more stocks in Region 12. In Abra, a kilo of Gobi can be bought at farmgate price of P550-P600. The state of Ludong and other fishes is really alarming that it is possible that the next generation will no longer taste these delicious fishes and will only see them in pictures if extinct because of the unstoppable pollution and destruction of their habitat.
Are there any government initiatives to protect these fishes?
On March 9, 1935, Fish and Game Administrative Order No. 3, Regulations for the Conservation of dalag, kanduli and banak was signed to prohibit the catching of the mentioned fishes and if accidentally hauled or caught, they should be set free immediately without killing or hurting them.

On July 28, 1939, Pres. Manuel L. Quezon Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce Benigno S. Aquino signed Fisheries Administrative Order No. 9 that regulates the conservation of certain fish commonly called “Ipon” in Northern Luzon (if this grew bigger it becomes a different kind of Gobi). The order took effect on October 1, 1939.

The order was amended by President Elpidio Quirino and Vice President Fernando Lopez (also the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources that time) on December 8, 1951.

Fisheries Administrative Order No. 31, regulation for the Conservation of Ludong in Northern Luzon, was signed on May 10, 1952.

On 2001, Republic Act 8550, conservation of rare, threatened and endangered fisheries species was signed into law. This declares closed seasons, conservation, rehabilitation, and prohibition of the use of any illegal fishing paraphernalia in catching the endangered kind of fishes. Anyone that violates the law will be punished by the government.

In Ilocandia, the municipality of Santa, Ilocos Stir approved Municipal Ordinance No 78 in 2001 which prohibits the catching of ipon during the last part of ipon season every February each year and protects all endangered species of fishes that include Ludong.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Ilocos Norte approved Ordinance 067 in 2004 which prohibits the catching of ipon in the coastal area of the province and whoever violates it will be fined.

An indigenous way to protect biodiversity is still practiced in Abra. They believe that man is only a caretaker of the Earth and that he cannot own it. He should protect it and get his needs in it. The “lapat” system here is an old system of preserving nature. Lapat means “to prohibit” meaning all the people have no right to cut trees, get rattan, hunt animals and catch fish in rivers and streams within the “lapat” area.

But despite the many laws enacted since 1935, still, the mentioned fishes slowly decreased in numbers. Last September 24, 2009, a dialogue was convened by concerned officials and government agencies including Ilocos Sur Governor Deogracias Victor “DV” Savellano, Abra Governor Eustaquio “Takit” Bersamin, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Region I and Cordillera Administrative Region, provincial agriculturists of the two provinces and other individuals that have a great concern on the Abra River and Ludong. They called it “Consultation and Dialogue on the Protection, Management and Development of Abra River” through the initiative of Ilocos Sur Gov. Savellano. They talked about the present state of the Abra River and the environment, issues that affect the river, people’s participation, formulation of a Technical Working Group, suggestions and possible actions for the protection of the river where many people around it get their food.

BFAR-CAR Regional Director Rebecca Dang-awan was selected chairman of the Technical Working Group while BFAR-Region I Regional Director Nestor Domenden is co-chairman. Members of the TWG include the Department of Environment of Natural Resources, National Commission for Indigenous People, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. CAR and Region I, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ‘Management Council (FARMC), Philippine National Police, Provincial Planning and Development Offices, Office of the Provincial Agriculturists, Sangguniang Panlalawigan Chainnan on Agriculture and Fisheries, Environment and Natural Resources Offices of Ilocos Sur and Abra, and Non Government Organization Save The Abra River Management (STARM).

They combine all their resources to take actions that will clean up the water of the Abra River, observe and punish the violators of the enacted laws and will lead the preservation of the fishes.

Under one vision, they believe that in the near future plenty of Ludong and other endemic fishes will appear and live again at the River of Life in Ilocandia-the Abra River.

By Mancielito S. Tacadena