Marine Protected Areas Protect Spawning Aggregations in Sitangkai and Sibutu


The Sulu Archipelago Reef complex, which is an ecologically important component of the Coral Triangle, is known to be a major habitat of the Napoleon wrasse or humphead wrasse locally known as the mameng. Sibutu and Sitangkai in the province of Tawi-Tawi, Philippines are the centers of the mariculture of the Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus). It is the largest living member of the family Labridae. It is slow growing but can grow to a maximum size exceeding 2 m and 190 kg. This species is locally known as Mameng.  

Napoleon Wrasse. (Photo by

When it is sexually matured the locals call it Pehakan referring to the sexually matured female. This species is considered as protogynous hermaphrodite  meaning the  adults can change sex from female to male. Large male species are called by the natives as langkawit and they are characterized with a prominent bump in the head when it reaches very large size.   It has a low productivity and its size at maturity is known to be  25-30 cm  or approximately 1 foot.

A study of Romero and Injani (2010) indicated that this species is the primary cultured fish for export in more than 350 cages of different sizes and number per cluster of cages surveyed in Sitangkai and Sibutu, Tawi-Tawi.  This species constitutes about 76% of the cultured species while others are various species of groupers (lapu-lapu), caranx (pampano),  siganids (samaral)  and lobsters. From these pens, a total of 31,071 pcs of hump head wrasse fingerlings (0.2-0.5g) were counted. There were 6,914 pcs of under sized HHW (0.6-0.8g) and 4,675 pcs of marketable size (1.0kg-1.4 kg). 

Based on record of mariculturists as of 2009,  the volume of exported Hump Head Wrasse from Sibutu and Sitangkai was about 33,732 kgs.  At a farm gate price of P2,500.00 per kilo live weight the fish farmers of Sibutu and Sitangkai earned an estimated income of PhP80,956,800.00 or  US$1,759,930. This is considered to be the most expensive reef fish and in Hong Kong the buying price at the fish market is PhP10,000.00 per kilo live weight.

in 2004 the Hump Head wrasse) has been listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Appendix II provides that all species which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.  Section 97 0f RA 8550 otherwise known as the Fisheries Code as amended in Section 102 of RA 10654 otherwise known as the Revised Fisheries Code of 2014 declares it unlawful to fish or take threatened or endangered species as listed in the CITES. 

Likewise, Section 11 of RA 9147, otherwise known as Wildlife Protection and Conservation  Act also provides for the implementation of international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora. Despite these laws, mariculture of this species still goes on. There is no viable substitute of livelihood that can replace the culture of this species.

However, the sustainability issue is at stake since the fish farmers depend on wild catch of the species to be ranched or cultured  in their in their pens and  cages.  There is no existing technology that is available for the hatchery operation for Hump Head Wrasse. But banning the culture of this species would only force the natives to go underground and still catch fingerlings from the wild and raise them in cages and pens because of the high demand for this species in the Chinese restaurants especially in China.

There is a need to work out with the local government and fisherfolk on management interventions so that he population of this species would be protected from continuous decline. 

The decision was to protect their spawning aggregations.   Like many coral reef fishes hump head wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus, form spawning aggregations.  Spawning is the term used to describe the reproductive act of some aquatic animals such as fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. 

Spawning occurs when sperm and eggs are released for fertilization into the water column or deposited onto the seabed. For this form of external fertilization to work, the sperm and eggs must be expelled around the same time and the same place. 

Humphead wrasse is known to spawn in aggregations consistently at same specific period of the year at a specific area according to  Sadovy, et al. 2004. They have small aggregations and the sites are usually on the outer reef slopes, in reef channels or at drop-offs. A study was done to determine the occurrence, history, and management of spawning aggregations of this species. The results of this study were presented to the local government units  and validated with the fisherfolk and  management measure were adopted.  

Municipal Ordinance No. 3, Series of 2013, Establishing Mameng Spawning Aggregations Marine Protected Area In Barangay Sipangkot in the Municipal Waters of Sitangkai, Province of Tawi-Tawi, Providing Management Intervention Thereof, and for other Purposes to protect the spawning aggregations of the Humphead Wrasse (Mameng) was approved.  

Likewise in the Municipality of Sibutu, Municipal Ordinance No.  2, Series of 2013, Establishing Humphead Wrasse (Mameng) Spawning Aggregations Marine Protected Area in Tando Owak, Dungun Dungon to Tong Bakkaan to Pamalikan  and Tahing Ungus Mataha in the Municipal Waters of Sibutu, Province of Tawi-Tawi, providing management interventions was also approved.  Now the local governments came up with a management plan to manage this highly threatened species which is heavily trafficked as part of the Live Food Fish Trade so that this species would be available now and into the future. FILEMON G. ROMERO


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