(Traditionally, women’s contributions in the fishing industry have been underestimated or unrecognized. This article highlights women’s influence—especially the women of Lanuza—that inspires others to be involved in marine conservation and sustainable livelihood programs.)
Marybeth “Yeng” Rita has taken on the challenge to be a woman of influence in a male-dominated industry as a Coastal Resources Management (CRM) officer of the local government of Lanuza, Surigao del Sur.
A CRM officer since 2002, Rita is directly involved in the enforcement of coastal fishery laws, including patrolling designated areas of the Lanuza Marine Park and Sanctuary and its municipal waters 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Lanuza is a fourth class municipality in the province of Surigao del Sur. Located within the heart of Lanuza bay, it is a very important marine resource in the northern tip of the island. To protect its marine resources, it is among the first LGUs in the area that adopted coastal resources management as part its implementing guidelines in marine protection.
Rita was a member of the composite team who apprehended commercial fishing vessels who illegally fish within their 15-kilometer municipal waters. These vessels are locally known as “surit-surit” and “liba-liba”. Surit-surit is a type of commercial fishing using nets powered by a gasoline generator and uses light to attract and catch several species of anchovies locally known as bolinao. Because of the small mesh size, these nets catch juvenile fishes including several species of jacks. Liba-liba is a type of trawl or dragnet with fine mesh net that destroys corals and catch all species within its path. All these illegal fishing activities are totally banned within the municipal waters based on Republic Act 10654, the internal rules and regulation of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 (aka RA 8550).
During her stint as an Aquaculturist, Rita liked doing fieldwork more than office work. She said that visiting the fishing communities on a weekly basis was the best way to know exactly what their social and economic needs are. She added, “I also educated people at the grassroots level by sharing the importance of marine resources and its connection to their lives.”
She stressed that to successfully push marine conservation, both the local government and community share common values and goals – to protect marine biodiversity and to have a sustainable source of income for the fisher folks.
In coastal municipalities like Lanuza, strategic planning of coastal resource management played a crucial role in fisheries management. She proudly mentioned NURSIHA (Nursiha, Sibahay at Habag) MPA (Marine Protected Area) Monitoring Team, a developed and empowered fisher organization, which she founded in 2011. NURSIHA is composed of representatives and volunteers from three barangays surrounding the MPA. Its primary purpose is to protect marine species and enforce fishery laws within Lanuza.
Another intervention which Rita helped established was the setting up of the Sanctuary Café, a community-based enterprise for fishers, particularly women, to purposely shift their livelihood into business enterprise and lessen the overfishing activities.
These days, Rita continues to impress the fishers by initiating more project proposals and assisting their alternative livelihood projects that empower women in the fishery sector such as establishment of a barangay food terminal where women can sell local delicacies to tourists operated by Kahugpungan sa mga Mananagat sa Nurcia (KMN). These projects provide additional income for the women’s families. Yeng says that there will be more future project implementations to sustain the livelihood of fishers especially women.
Inspired by Rita, the Lanuza women’s determination and dedication prove that they have the power and voice that go beyond family duties. They motivate the community to be proactive in conservation so that the area’s coast and their main source of livelihood will be taken care of for the future generations.
The municipality of Lanuza is a member of the Lanuza Bay Development Alliance (LBDA), a seven member covenant of local government units managing Lanuza Bay. The LBDA is one of the partners of Haribon with the Strenghthening the Marine Protected Areas to Conserve Marine Key Biodiversity Areas in the Philippines (MKBA) Project. This is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (BMB-DENR). Haribon is the local responsible partner of DENR in the implementation of the said project. Its primary intervention is technical assistance of MPA’s in Lanuza bay in terms of Management effectiveness, Sustainable financing and Policy formulation.
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