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Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest Project

The Project




Field Office:
Rachel's Place Hotel and Restaurant Bldg.
Ilmoh St., Lamion
Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
Tel. (63 68) 2681253

Location and Significance
Status of Coastal Resources
Past and Current Initiatives

Location and Significance. The Tawi-Tawi target area covers all of the province's 10 municipalities.These towns have 203 barangays (villages), 198 of which are coastal villages with a combined coastline of 821 kms. More than 97% of the provincial population of 322,317 live in the coastal area (PFO 2001).

Tawi-Tawi is the southernmost province of the Philippines, bordering Sabah and East Malaysia. It is under the political jurisdiction of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

Three groups of islands make up the provincial territory: Cagayan de Sulu (Mapun) and Turtle Island Group (Manuk-Manukan); Sibutu Island Group; and the Tawi-Tawi Island Group. There are 10 main islands and more than 300 smaller islands and islets, some of which lie far offshore from the larger islands. Because of this, the province's municipal waters (up to 12.5km based on the ARMM Fisheries and Aquatic Code of 1999) are extensive, covering more than 11,000 sq kms.

Map showing FISH Project target area in Tawi-Tawi. Click to view bigger image
FISH Project target area in Tawi-Tawi. Inset image represents Turtle Islands; cross-hatched portion represents the Project's focal area. Click on image to view bigger map.

Province Municipality Shoreline (kms)
Surigao del Sur

Panglima Sugala*
South Ubian

*Focal area

Of these 10 municipalities, three are in the FISH Project focal area, namely, Bongao, Panglima Sugala and Simunul.

Map showing FISH Project focal area in Tawi-Tawi
FISH Project focal area (cross-hatched) in Tawi-Tawi. Coral reef areas are shown in blue.

Tawi-Tawi is inhabited by several ethnic groups, including the Sama, Tausug, Jama Mapun and Badjao (Sama Delaut). The Sama comprise the majority, inhabiting almost all of the island municipalities. They are seaweed farmers, fishers, boat-builders and traders. The Tausug, originally from Sulu, are mostly farmers, fishers and traders. The Jama Mapun predominate in Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi (Mapun) and Turtle Islands. The Badjao are the true indigenous people of the Sulu Islands but do not claim ancestral lands. Historically they were nomadic sea dwellers and lived in houseboats or lepa. Now they tend to live in houses on stilts near or on the sea; a few still live in boats. They live on fishing, gleaning for shells and diving for pearls and valuable invertebrates.

About 25,000 of the provincial population are considered to be municipal fishers, and another 1,000 are employed in commercial fishing. Seaweed farming employs about 20,000 operators and covers more than 21,000 hectares; production hit nearly 190,000 metric tons in 2001 (PFO 2001).


Status of Coastal Resources. Tawi-Tawi is beset by an almost total lack of management through law enforcement, education and coastal resource management programs. The nearshore fringing reefs are heavily fished and are not considered in good condition in terms of fish density. A survey of fish diversity and abundance at Pababag (Papahag) Island (Bongao) recorded 1738 individuals per 1250 sq meters with 58 species of reef fish (BFAR 2000). These findings are supported by results of a survey conducted by the FISH Project in 2004 (FISH Project 2005), which noted only "scattered abundances" of the species Chaetodontids (butterflyfishes) at Pababag and generally poor to fair coral cover (less than 30%).

Test fishing conducted by FISH Project in Tawi-Tawi Bay however indicated relatively good fish composition, with better quality and high-value species dominating the fish catch, which averaged more than 5kg per fishing run using fish traps (3 days soaking time) (FISH Project 2005).

Along the shores of the main islands, seagrass beds and sandy bottom habitats are common in shallow areas. With generally clear water and protected from storms and wave action (Tawi-Tawi is almost typhoon-free), these areas are where seaweed farming is concentrated.

Offshore capture fisheries are dominated by commercial boats using superlights and purse seines. Many of these boats operate illegally within municipal waters and land their catch in northern Philippines and other ports in Mindanao such as Zamboanga City. No commercial fish landings were recorded in Tawi-Tawi in 1998 (MEDCO 1998), and municipal landings were estimated at only 11,380, indicating that municipal fish catches are mostly for subsistence use or are not recorded.


Past and Current Initiatives. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has been the most active agency in Tawi-Tawi in documenting the status of fisheries and coastal resources through marine surveys and some limited collection of fish catch data. The agency is a significant contributor to the development of seaweed farming in the area. It has recommended improved management of coral reefs in the main island of Pababag (BFAR 2000).

World Wildlife Fund for Nature Philippines has implemented a major sea turtle conservation program in the Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary since 1997 together with the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Task Force Pawikan and the Sabah National Parks Authority of Malaysia. The Coastal Resource Management Project of DENR also provided support for a satellite telemetry project that tracked sea turtles in Sulu Sea to raise public awareness of the need to protect these endangered animals. The Local Government Support Program of the Canadian International Development Agency has supported some capacity-building for local government units for coastal management. The Foundation for Philippine Environment has also supported some projects for research and conservation in Tawi-Tawi Bay. And the Muslim Upliftment Association has assisted various institutions for coastal management.



BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources). 2000. Coastal Resource Assessment of Pababag Island, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi (prepared by N. Katada and A.S. Pendulat). BFAR Regional Office Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, 37 p.

Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest (FISH) Project. 2005. Consolidated Report: Baseline Assessment of the Capture Fisheries and Marine Protected Areas (Reef Habitats) in the FISH Project's Focal Areas: Coron Bay, Danajon Bank, Lanuza Bay and Tawi-Tawi Bay. FISH Project of the Department of Agriculture, Cebu City, Philippines. 92 p.

MEDCO (Mindanao Economic Development Council). 1998. Fish: Volume of Fish Production 1998 (Philippines and Mindanao, Mindanao by Region and by Province).

PFO (Provincial Fisheries Office) of Tawi-Tawi. 2001. Provincial Fisheries Profile, 2001 (prepared by F,A. Nahul, Provincial Fishery Officer). Department of Agriculture Provincial Fisheries Office, Tawi-Tawi. 9 p.


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