• Country’s fishing grounds ‘almost depleted’

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    DONSOL, SORSOGON: The country’s fishing industry is in crisis and the government should take serious steps to revive the dwindling marine resources, Dr. Victor Soliman, a fishery scientist, said.

    Soliman, a professor at Bicol University, said the country’s fishing grounds are almost depleted and it will take time to revive them.

    He called for a total ban on all commercial fishing operations.

    “As early as 1981 the major fishing grounds have reached their maximum yields, meaning [they are]overfished. The country’s fishing grounds are in critical condition and the government must take rigid measures as the current situation is we’re managing overfishing instead of managing the fishing industry,” Soliman told The Manila Times.

    Soliman raised his concerns after more than 1,000 people in this coastal town joined members of Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, church officials and other environmentalists in a march to urge President Benigno Aquino 3rd to stop commercial fishing operations in Bicol.

    Soliman warned that unless the government imposes a total commercial fishing ban, the country will no longer be able to export quality fish.

    Two years ago, President Aquino ordered the Maritime police and Philippine Coast Guard in Bicol to intensify its operations against big illegal fishers in the region. The order was issued after nine prelates in Bicol exposed massive illegal fishing in two major fishing grounds in the western seaboard of Bicol—Ragay Gulf and Burias Pass.

    The letter to the President was signed by Archbishops Leonardo Legazpi, Archdiocese of Caceres, Joey “Bong” Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi, Jose Sorra, Bishop Emeritus of Legazpi, Lucilo Quiambao, auxiliary prelate Emeritus of Legazpi, Jose Rojas Jr. of Diocese of Libmanan, Arturo Bastes, Diocese of Sorsogon, Gilbert Carcera of Diocese of Daet and Manolo de los Santos of Diocese of Virac and Jose Batolo of the Diocese of Masbate.

    Msgr. Angel Dy, head of the Sorsogon Social Action Foundation, Inc., said illegal commercial fishing in Bicol stopped for six months but has since surged and worsened.

    The law that bans commercial fishing within 15 kilometers of municipal waters was defied by commercial fishers with connections to high-ranking officials in government, according to the church officials.

    Francisco Ombao, chief of the fisheries regulatory enforcement division of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, blamed local government units (LGUs) in Bicol for abetting illegal fishing.

    “LGUs are not performing their obligations and not implementing the fishery laws. We will bring this matter to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas in our upcoming FARMC meeting,” Ombao said.

    He said that illegal fishing has become rampant because local officials are being paid by big trawling operators.

    The country’s fisheries law bans trawl fishing.

    Vince Cinches, Greenpeace Ocean campaigner, said the area around Ticao mirrors the plight of the country’s waters.

    “This is attested by the presence of iconic species and eco-tourism, side by side with poverty in coastal communities, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and the decline of catch and fisheries species,” Cinches said.

    “Illegal and destructive fishing is rampant and intrudes into the municipal waters of Donsol, one of the municipalities along Ticao Pass. Commercial operations leave very little fish for small scale fisherfolk most of whom can barely catch six kilos a day, the average haul that will give them a good day’s wage,” he added.

    Based on its study, Greenpeace said 32.5 percent of commercially important fish in Donsol are overfished. The annual harvest of about 1,350 metric tons by municipal fishermen is upset by the intrusion of commercial fishers in Donsol who harvest about 12,000 MT of fish annually.

    The group said that there are more than 350 commercial fishing boats owned by around 250 operators that are trawl fishing in Bicol.

    Fishing grounds in Bicol such as Albay Gulf, Burias Pass, Ticao Pass, Lagunoy Guld and Jintotolo Channel are being raped by illegal and legal commercial operators, according to Cinches.

    As a result, small fishermen are getting poorer because their catch is getting smaller, he said.

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