Restoring vibrant oceans
Each 21st day of November is observed globally as World Fisheries Day. There were many activities to highlight the significance of fisheries as important source of animal protein in our diet, and livelihoods of fishers and coastal residents, not excluding the women who are very much involved in post-harvest activities.
Of course, the plight of the poorest of the poor, the small-scale fishers, having less fish to catch, amid the continuing over-exploitation of our fisheries and the degradation of marine habitats, would always be integrated in the various activities initiated to heighten awareness on the challenges facing our oceans.
The Commission on Social Advocacies of the Archdiocese of Cebu, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Pusyon Kinaiyahan, the University of Cebu College of Tourism and Oceana Philippines joined hands in holding a Marine Protection and Sustainable Livelihood Summit participated in by various stakeholders in Cebu and Bohol.
Key issues tackled were on impacts of coastal developments on coastal marine ecosystems, our legal framework on the protection of our coasts and oceans, the environmental impact assessment system which is quite weak in our country, the people’s right to participate in decision-making, and the substantive rights to life, health and a balanced and healthful ecology.
The sharing of the thesis by the students from the University of San Jose-Recoletos in analyzing the quality of the participation by constituents in a proposed reclamation project in Minglanilla was much-appreciated. It raised questions on the appreciation by our environment agency on the significance of public consultation as a right accorded to the people by the Constitution and our national laws. Hopefully, this and research from our students, with support from the universities, will pave the way for our national and local lawmaking bodies to start crafting law and ordinance to implement the sovereign right of the people to be engaged stakeholders in policies and programs that affect all of them — whether social, political or economic.
In our country, there had also been giant steps to anchor decision-making based on science. A clear example is the now regular declaration of closed seasons in certain areas of the country as spawning grounds of sardines, including the Visayan Sea. While before there were strong resistance to such a management intervention, the fisheries sector now welcomes it as they have seen the benefits of abundant harvests and bigger sizes of fish.
We certainly need more innovative strategies in the information and education campaign so as to win the war against overfishing and restore our oceans to its original vibrant state. It is possible, if now, more than ever, we collaborate and focus on this singular mission of bringing back fisheries abundance in this center of center of marine biodiversity in the world.
It is a positive step indeed for the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources under the leadership of Fisheries Undersecretary and BFAR National Director Eduardo B. Gongona to strengthen the reforms undertaken by then National Director Asis Perez to sustainably manage our fisheries.
Because ten of thirteen principal fishing grounds surveyed are already overfished, with fish population in alarming decline, expect the fight against illegal fishing to reach new heights. Patrol vessels had been and will continue to be distributed by the fisheries bureau to enforce fisheries laws in our municipal waters.
Under the law, coastal municipalities and cities are given jurisdiction over municipal waters. It is both a power and a shared responsibility to protect our marine waters as how they are managed has far-flung impacts on the way of life, livelihoods and resiliency of our people and our natural life support systems.
How I wish I can say that there are more exemplary mayors like Bindoy Mayor Valente Yap of Negros Oriental who are doing so much in having more marine protected areas in their waters, a requirement of the Fisheries Code. Or the province of Negros Occidental whose program, Operation Lawod, to stop illegal fishing in its component waters, has made it one of the models of effective fisheries law enforcement in the country.
Under the amended Fisheries Code, stiffer penalties are imposed for serious violations, which can also mean sanctions for their protectors.
Let us do our share — we only have one ocean, one planet.
Let’s save the ocean and feed the world.
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