Summit pushes for Tañon Strait plan after 17 years of waiting

By: Marian Z. Codilla February 11,2015 - 11:01 AM

For the first time in 17 years since the Tañon Strait was declared a protected seascape,  stakeholders gathered in Cebu City for a summit   to  discuss how to finalize a general management plan that covers 42 towns and cities in three provinces in Central Visayas.

The Tañon Strait, which lies between  Cebu and Negros Island, is the biggest marine protected area in the country and is supposed to be  off limits to commercial fishing.

A major fishing ground,  it faces threats of destructive and  illegal fishing, overfishing, and pollution —   problems tackled in a two-day summit at the Parklane Hotel

“I used to see  large marine animals such as pilot whales and killer whales, but in the last five years, I seldom see them. They are slowly declining. Our fisherfolk are getting smaller fish,” said Lemnuel Aragones, associate professor of the Institute of Environment Science and Meteorology College of Science of the University of the Philippines Diliman in an interview.

He said that since the early 1990s when he started studying the dolphins in Tañon Strait, marine biodiversity was very rich with marine mammals, corals, sea grass and mangroves, and fish species.

A  total of 43,000 registered fisherfolk rely on the waters of Tañon Strait, said Andres Bojos, regional director of the  Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR-7).

He said the agency is monitoring commercial vessels that engage in illegal fishing.

Fisherfolk said last year was  the “worst year” for them as they were  getting smaller and fewer fish, acording to Gloria Ramos, vice president of Oceana, an  international ocean care organization, which hosted the summit.

The Tanon strait covers 521,018 hectares in Region 6 and 7.

It was  declared  a protected area by President Fidel Ramos on May 27, 1998 in honor of  14 species of whales and dolphins which live within the area,  a presence which indicates the high biodiversity of the waters.

Not all local officials are happy about the special status, which bans commercial fishing there.

Dumanjug Mayor Nelson Garcia said  commercial fishing must be allowed in  Tañon Strait at certain periods of the year for the livelihood of people.

“Why do we have to protect the Tañon Strait? This is where our forefathers’ have fished. Dolphins are parasites; they eat fish.

Why are we protecting dolphins and sharks which eat the fish? What good does the whale do for us, — whale watching? They are meant to be killed,” Garcia said.

A General Management Plan (GMP) made in 2007 by the  Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR ) outlines several actions such as marking out the area, protecting coral reefs and identifying areas for mangrove planting.

Isabelo Montejo, DENR  regional  executive director,  this hasn’t been implemented  because “we are conducting a series of consultations, and one of the biggest is this summit”.

He said  the challenge is, to  draw the commitment of each stakeholder.

“Without this general management plan, our plans for the Tañon Strait will be fragmented. The Tañon Strait is the receiving end of many watersheds and catchments.”

“Local  government units, the barangay officials are the frontliners in protecting the Tañon Strait. Enforcement is a task that DENR, BFAR cannot do alone. We should look at our actions together,” Bojos said.

The summit was organized by Oceana and attended by 299 barangay captains and representatives of 42 local governments, DENR and BFAR./WITH CORRESPONDENT  MELISSA Q. CABAHUG

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TAGS: Cebu, Tañon Strait

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