[B-SIDE Podcast] Saving and craving tawilis: the economics of conservation

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The endemic tawilis–loved as deep fried, salted, smoked, or bottled in oil–is facing the possibility of extinction. The scientific community hatched an emergency plan to save the freshwater sardine to protect the livelihood of fishermen and to ensure that future generations will get to savor the fish.

In this B-Side episode, Dr. Ma. Vivian DC. Camacho, station manager of the University of the Philippines-Los Banos (UPLB) Limnological Station, discusses the tawilis and the economics of conservation with BusinessWorld reporter Luz Wendy T. Noble.


Tawilis is endangered but it still can be saved.

Tawilis, a tiny tasty fish that fits in your hand, can be found only in Taal Lake. It is the only sardine known to exist solely in freshwater.

Its declining population is due to its habitat and fishing. To stave off its extinction, UPLB is exploring ex situ conservation to see if tawilis can thrive off-site. In addition, Ms. Camacho’s group is developing studies related to culturing other endemic fishes such as biya and ayungin.

Conservation funding often takes a back seat.

Researchers in the conservation field face three major challenges, according to Ms. Camacho: limited research funds and the lack of adequate facilities; insufficient awareness and information dissemination for the public; and the volume of permit requirements in the Philippines. This, despite the country being named a biodiversity hotspot due to the rising number of threatened species.

The scientific community’s need for funding, Ms. Camacho said, is often overshadowed by the country’s socioeconomic concerns (and now, the pandemic crisis). She hopes these gaps can be addressed as conservation is also a pressing concern.

“There is really an urgent need to intensify our conservation efforts for long-term sustainability, to sustain livelihood and for economic gains, and foremost, for our future generations,” she said.

No, we don’t need to boycott the tawilis to save it. Fishermen need to make a living too.

A total ban on catching and consuming tawilis isn’t imperative, Ms. Camacho said, although closed fishing season should be respected.

“It’s always tricky to balance protecting or conserving the species and the economic part of it,” she said. “Another way, as consumers, is to protect the environment where they thrive. Think of ways not to throw pollutants at the lake.”

Recorded remotely on April 8. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez and Sam L. Marcelo.

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