Our sacred right (and duty) to healthy oceans
Will the incoming Duterte administration implement its campaign promises to prioritize sustainable management of our oceans, the livelihood of our marginal fishers and in fighting the criminals plundering our already overfished oceans?
During the recent presidential campaign season, 20 civil society organizations allied themselves as ‘Panagat’ (Bisaya for ‘fishing in the sea’) and called for fisheries policy reforms such as the establishment of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, “to strengthen the regulatory functions of BFAR and address conflicting policies and overlapping functions among government agencies.”
We are a global center for marine fish biodiversity in the world, having one of the longest coastlines. Yet the agency tasked to develop, manage and conserve the fisheries and aquatic resources, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is a mere line bureau under the Department of Agriculture.
It is high time that the fisheries sector be given the importance that it deserves. More than 30 million Filipinos rely on a healthy ocean for our sustenance. The country is a major fish exporter, but, illegal commercial and blast fishing, overfishing, pollution and destruction of the interconnected mangroves, corals and seagrass ecosystems have taken their toll on the declining fish population.
The state of our seas with its deleterious impacts on our subsistence fisherfolk is worrisome and requires urgent intervention and strong collaboration among stakeholders. Our rights to and a duty to have a healthy ocean for all should not be compromised.
The National Stock Assessment Program of BFAR has openly admitted that 10 of the 13 major fishing grounds of the country are overfished. No wonder the subsistence fisherfolk are considered the poorest of the poor.
It is heartening that Panagat’s call for the creation of a Department of Fisheries received a favorable response, as the Duterte-Cayetano team was reported to be open to the proposal to its establishment. Senator Cayetano, Duterte’s vice-presidential candidate, was quoted to have said, as a justification, that “proper management of aquatic resources should be a priority in a country surrounded by water to improve food security and livelihood.”
As his principal platform is centered on peace and order, the president-elect also promised “a crackdown on illegal fishers, unregulated and unreported fishing,” committing that “those who will be caught will be penalized severely.”
We expect the incoming administration to implement in earnest the Fisheries Code as amended and ensure that the implementing rules for harvest control rules, reference points and vessel monitoring measures to be in place within 100 days. Civil society groups are working hand in hand with our fisherfolk and people’s organizations in crafting the foregoing and other specific actions that they expect presumptive President Duterte to do during the first 100 days of his presidency, including certifying the establishment of a fisheries department as an urgent bill that the incoming Congress will address.
It is high time as well that the local government units in coastal areas seriously perform their responsibility in enforcing fishery laws and regulations and address the illegal fishing and open access issues that are still besetting our municipal waters. The still largely unregulated but banned active fishing in municipal waters is pushing our fisheries to near collapse. The problem is a huge food and economic security concern.
Technology such as vessel monitoring systems and remote sensing already exist and should already be availed of to detect the behaviors of the fishers in our municipal waters. This is not an option but an exercise of the political will of the local authorities to perform their mandates.
We are batting for more marine protected areas and fish sanctuaries to be installed as commanded by the Fisheries Code, no less, following of course the required process of making the fishers and coastal residents appreciate their long-term benefits and as an adaptation strategy to the disastrous impacts of climate change.
Well-managed marine protected areas run by people’s organizations, with sincere and dedicated local authorities steering them, have proven beyond doubt that livelihood and conservation blend together and have in fact improved the quality of life of the constituents. The Apo Island Marine Sanctuary in Dauin, Negros Oriental is touted as one of the world’s best examples of a well-managed marine sanctuary. Indeed, the Apo Island experience is one that deserves replication in our climate-challenged islands.
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May is Farmers’ and Fisherfolk’s Month with the theme: Sapat na pagkain, Sama-sama nating kamtin! The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Region 7 celebrated it by appointing a representative from the fisheries sector as the Fisherfolk Regional Director.
It was inspiring to see fisherfolk given a chance to assume ministerial functions of the agency for a month. This is a good experience for our fishers to understand the intricacies of working in the agency and to hone their leadership skills.
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