AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Tuesday promised livelihood support for fisherfolk if they stopped their illegal fishing activities, but he also called on local government officials to rein in illegal fishing in their areas.
Speaking before the fisherfolk of Marinduque, Piñol, who vowed early on to curb illegal and unsustainable fishing practices in the country’s fishing grounds, urged fishers to abandon illegal fishing in exchange for livelihood assistance from the government.
“Stop illegal fishing and tell me what livelihood program you need. We will give it to you,” he said, following reports that illegal fishing activities still surfaced occasionally in the country’s municipal waters.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is already distributing environment-friendly gears, gill nets and handline to encourage fisherfolk to use sustainable fishing methods. BFAR is also set to hand down 200,000 fiberglass boats and construct hundreds of community fish landing centers (CFLCs) in six years as part of its livelihood support to municipal fisherfolk.
The DA chief, however, warned mayors and barangay captains that if they do not stop illegal fishing in their areas, the DA would publish their names in national newspapers for failing to stop unsustainable fishing practices.
“We will give all mayors and barangay captains until June [this year]. If there are mayors or barangay captains who are involved in illegal fishing, then I will ask the President [Rodrigo Duterte] to suspend them for neglect of duty,” he said.
Meanwhile, BFAR national director Eduardo Gongona said the bureau is matching livelihood assistance efforts with the strengthening of resource management and law enforcement measures, which means that more seaborne patrol operations in the country’s fishing grounds will be conducted to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
For its part, Oceana Philippines, an ocean-conservation advocacy group, lauded the move of the agriculture officials and reiterated the urgent need for science-based policies and strengthened law enforcement to protect critical marine habitats and important fishing grounds in order to bring back fisheries abundance in the country.
“This is much welcome news at the start of the year from Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. The Philippines is the ‘center of the center’ of marine biodiversity in the world. We are among the top fish producing countries worldwide, and many Filipinos, especially in the municipal waters, depend on a healthy and vibrant ocean for food and livelihood,” said lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president for Oceana Philippines.
“Strong political leadership at the national and local levels and vigorous collaboration with stakeholders in implementing our laws are necessary in fighting and deterring illegal fishing,” Ramos added.
Coastal cities and municipalities have jurisdiction over the management of municipal waters, which are within 15 kilometers from the coastline, including biologically important near-shore areas where mangroves, seagrass, and coral reefs thrive.
Near-shore areas serve as the nesting and breeding ground for fish, which are often used for human consumption such as sardines, groupers, and snappers.
More than 50 million Filipinos are dependent on fish for food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The fisheries sector employs almost three million fishers, 70 percent of which are municipal fisherfolk.
The Philippines also ranks 11th in the world as the top producer of wild-caught fish, feeding about three billion people worldwide.
It is alarming that, as the BFAR reported, 10 out of 13 major fishing grounds surveyed in the Philippines are already overfished.
For Oceana, irresponsible fishing has reduced many wild fish populations to historically low levels right at the moment when the world needs its oceans more than ever.
The DA, through BFAR, has deployed floating assets to enforce fisheries laws and apprehend violators.
Last December 25, DA-BFAR apprehended a commercial fishing vessel engaged in illegal fishing in the municipal waters of Bantayan Island, Cebu. Bantayan Island is part of Tañon Strait, one of the largest marine protected areas in the Philippines and home to 14 of the 28 species of whales and dolphins in the Philippines. Tañon Strait also serves as a critically important fishing ground for municipal fishers.
The Department of Agriculture undertook to recommend the review of declarations of closed season by the local government units, continuous support for the campaign of local governments against illegal fishing, and strengthened cooperation between the DA and the local government units to stop illegal fishing operations.