Blame it on a high demand for non-meat dishes on Holy Week and illegal hunters.
A 60-kilo manta ray was confiscated yesterday from a stall in Pasil market in barangay Suba, Cebu City.
Illegal fishers, who hunt the protected species in seas between Bohol and Cebu, tried to slip the large manta ray in Cebu City’s biggest fish market.
It was already cut up in three parts and encased in plastic when it was put on display.
“We were waiting for the owner to arrive but no one came to claim it. The stall owner said the fish was just placed there,” said Maria Merlyn Catipay, OIC of the fisheries division of the Cebu City Department of Veterinary Medicine and Fisheries.
At first glance, the pectoral fins looked like the ordinary tail of a fish displayed without its head.
The manta ray was spotted by a roving inspector of the DVMF.
The stall owner told Catipay he knew the animal was a protected species and left it unwrapped.
The manta ray is considered a “vulnerable” species in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species.
Just this month in Bangkok, Thailand, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed to increase protection of manta rays along with four other commercially exploited species of sharks.
Manta rays are now in the CITES II list which means there is increased protection allowing legal and sustainable trade.
Under Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code, it is unlawful to hunt, kill or sell rare, threatened or endangered species listed in the CITES list. Violators face a P120,000 fine or prison term of 12 to 20 years.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) prohibits taking, selling, purchasing, possessing, transporting and exporting manta rays and whale sharks. A fine of P500 to P5,000 and imprisonment for six months to four years or both will be imposed on the violator.
Catipay said the manta ray may have been caught in the seas off Bohol where manta ray hunting has long been recorded in Pamilacan Island.
Pasil port where fishing vessels dock is being monitored as an entry point of illegal marine products, said DVMF chief Alice Utlang.
“That is why our team is roving the port and inspecting the meat being sold in the market,” Utlang said.
The other week, Cebu Daily News reported a carenderia in Pasil that serves stew made of sea turtles or pawikan, an endangered species.
Like the manta ray, which is served as “larang”, the exotic soup is a delicacy that draws people from all walks of life to the Pasil fish market.
Utlang said the illegal trade of endangered species exists but she doesn’t consider it rampant.
“They thought that since it’s a holiday today our inspectors would not be there. That’s why they tried to sell this manta ray,”Utlang said.
After CDN reported about the Pasil carenderia selling pawikan stew, the eatery stopped serving the dish and the owner hasn’t been seen around, said Utlang.
The confiscated manta ray will be buried in the grounds of the DVMF office at the North Reclamation Area in Cebu City.
Usually law enforcers who confiscate fresh fish from vendors during anti-illegal fishing operations donate the seized goods to the city jail or charity organizations.
But the seized manta ray will not be fed to beneficiaries.
“We respect that these are endangered species. We don’t want this to be fed to animals in the Cebu City zoo,” Utlang said.