Saving Visayan Sea
When Tony Oposa launched the Visayan Sea Squadron in 2004, he envisioned an area where illegal commercial and destructive fishing is totally eradicated and sustainable management in place for it to regain the fabled fisheries abundance it once had.
The Visayan Sea was the country’s top sardines producer but overfishing, illegal fishing and destruction of key marine habitats caused the fish population to decline by 70%. Despite the annual declaration of closed season, the fish stocks have not recovered.
This is reflective of our fisheries in a state of crisis, as two thirds of the principal fishing grounds are deemed over-exploited, with the Visayas Sea counted among them.
Along the way, officials and citizens in the Visayan Sea, armed with the same vision, converged.
Governors of Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Cebu and Masbate agreed to protect it from humanity’s greed, ignorance and uncaring ways.
Last year, the four Governors were joined by Undersecretary Gongona, the National Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in Sicogon Island. They signed a Covenant of Commitment and Cooperation for the conservation, protection and restoration of the Visayan Sea and its declaration as a Fisheries Management Area (FMA), on July 22, 2017.
FMA is a new management concept in the country, thanks to RA 10654 which amended the Fisheries Code of 1998, RA 8550. A public policy spelled out by RA 10654 is “To adopt the precautionary principle and manage fishery and aquatic resources, in a manner consistent with the concept of an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management and integrated coastal area management in specific natural fishery management areas, appropriately supported by research, technical services and guidance provided by the State.”
An FMA is similar to the regional Fisheries Management Councils in the United States which are responsible for the fisheries that require conservation and management in their region.
Stakeholders from the four provinces, with the addition of Capiz, BFAR, scientists from the academe and non-government organizations, Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Councils and other sectors moved swiftly in planning and conducting workshops and consultations to craft the management framework and plan, which also included an enforcement plan, for the Visayan Sea.
There were hurdles, but motivated by, and borrowing Tony’s acronym for FUN agenda, meaning friendship, unity and network, the Management Framework is now established, with three priority goals: (1) Restore fishery resources and rehabilitate habitats of the Visayan Sea; (2) Sustain livelihoods, both fishery and non-fishery related, through enhanced capacities, and equitable access to available resources, and (3) Establish efficient and effective governance structure with improved fishery law compliance and enforcement that addresses socio-economic security and ecological integrity.
The 10th Governor’s Visayan Sea Summit in Iloilo last Friday saw the governors and representatives signing the historic commitment to adopt the Management Framework and to implement management actions according to their mandates in their respective areas, consistent with the common vision and goals of the Management Framework.
It was a dream come true for Tony Oposa and for so many of us to see political will in action to save and protect the Visayan Sea and the millions dependent on a healthy ocean for sustenance.
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