A policy paper on fisheries and our marine environment


OPED Editor’s note: The PAFI Ambassadors’ Corner column will have the entire 4000-plus word policy paper written by former Ambassador Alberto A. Encomienda every Saturday from today until Saturday January 3, 2015. The paper is, in the author’s words,” a management program for fisheries resources and protection of the marine environment in the Philippines archipelago; a start-up
Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) proposition for Region III focused on coastal communities livelihood.” Apart from being a member of the PAFI, Mr. Encomienda is a convenor of balikBalangay.”

Introduction: Archipelagic and maritime Philippines

1. The ocean management concerns of the Philippines as an archipelagic State encompass its archipelagic and internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf (including an Extended Continental Shelf). The defining characteristic of an archipelago nation or state is a far greater sea area under national jurisdictions than land territory. The Philippines is also considered a quintessential coastal state in that its population centers are not more than a hundred kilometers from the coast. Among its marine endowments are a rich unparalleled biodiversity hosting the larger part of the coral triangle that extends to northeastern Indonesia and Malaysia (Sabah); and counts four times the number of coral species than found in the Great Barrier Reef; among the highest in the world. One of only two double-barrier reefs in the world is in Bohol province. The entire archipelago is a large marine ecosystem with such biodiversity that has become an important feeding and breeding grounds for high-value commercial fish species such as tuna (also categorized as highly migratory and straddling fish stocks), endangered marine mammals such as the Dugong or “sea cow”, the Butanding or whale shark and even the rarer mega-mouth shark, and six species of marine turtles. It would not be an overstatement to say that the Philippines archipelago is the ‘oceanarium’ of the world . . . and is a microcosm of global marine life. This imposes on the Philippines the moral, natural burden and mandate to nurture trusteeship and assume the stewardship of its marine environment and resources, and take the role as the lead shepherd of the maritime Asia regional seas which are interconnected enclosed and semi-enclosed seas. Collectively these regional sea areas would best be governed effectively through region-wide cooperation which is provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, in particular, at Part IX thereof.

2. The obverse side of the coin in the foregoing extraordinarily complex regional ocean scenario is that this large marine ecosystem and its fisheries resources are directly exposed to serious threats and degradation on account of human activities such as illegal fishing and overfishing, pollution from mineral resources extraction (seabed/subsoil or land-based), run-off pollution from rivers and lakes, and international and domestic seaborne trade (shipping); a situation particularly true in the archipelago setting of the Philippines. Additionally, this widespread threat situation in maritime Asia seas is aggravated by the absence of a regional governance mechanism or organization to address maritime issues for joint and coordinated renewable resource management and to guarantee safe and secure sea trade routes (almost 50% of world maritime trade passing through these regional seas). The nonexistence of a regional management body in this highly endangered ecosystem heritage area, further exposed to pollution threats as a major sea trade route, is very politically charged and falls under international law (at UNCLOS Part IX aforestated) as being a critical area where regional cooperation for conservation and preservation is a base requirement. It must be subsumed and accepted by the population and government for all would eventually be lost if there is no mechanism for effective communication leading to sustainable management of the country’s marine resource base in the wider regional seas context; this connectivity of regional seas compels a wider governance net.

Rationale and relevance of fisheries management and ocean governance to health and livelihood in the context of the Philippines archipelagic State; inevitably leading towards Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).

3. In the present state of the Philippines as a developing country with vast ocean jurisdictions, and dependence on these oceans, fisheries resources is critical to the health and livelihood of the greater majority of its people. In such circumstances, fisheries is a significant factor in overall social and economic development and enhancement. An ocean governance scheme initially focused on coastal fisheries management and extrapolated to a wider regional sea setting, must necessarily be a sustainable program to provide a meaningful longer lasting contribution to the socioeconomic life of the nation. To put fisheries, marine resources and marine environment in its appropriate perspective and context in regard to national economic development, it must always be remembered as already pointed out, that the Philippines is a developing country and an archipelago with far greater ocean jurisdictions than land territory. Thus, fisheries, especially artisanal fisheries, forms a very significant factor in social and economic enhancement of the nation.

Moreover, as also noted above, for fisheries to have a meaningful contribution to the socioeconomic life of the nation, conservation and management of its marine resources must necessarily be sustained using appropriate national and regional mechanisms.

[Part 2 of this policy paper will appear as a PAFI Ambassadors’ Corner column on December 13.]


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