Policy paper on marine and fishery resources (4)

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Awareness alarm call on “political disasters”
12. In addition to multiple natural disaster impacts, regional political events, as presently exemplified in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea situation, can also affect the health and livelihood of coastal communities. For example, in Region III artisanal fisherfolk feel compelled to range farther out from shore into sea areas under jurisdictional disputes because of depleted fish stocks closer to shore, and are then prevented by enforcement elements of foreign countries to undertake fishing activities. The coastal communities of the provinces of Zambales and Pangasinan are cases in point; with western Palawan and the northernmost provinces of Luzon as potential areas for similar actions.

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Political events such as the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea stand-off situation, may be temporary and can even subsequently generate a desired regional cooperation for marine resources management if ocean governance is instituted and initiated even unilaterally at the outset. While politically-colored events are a different disaster story altogether, it could nevertheless be tempered through constructive ocean governance measures.

13. The problem in regard to the artisanal fisherfolk in coastal Zambales and Pangasinan facing loss of livelihood is, as reported in the news media, on account of their being prevented from fishing in traditional fishing grounds in the Panatag/Scarborough shoal. The cause of the problem is attributed to Filipino fisherfolk being denied access to those traditional fishing grounds by Chinese Coast Guard and Fisheries Agency vessels especially during a seasonal fishing ban imposed by China.

While it is a fact that Chinese Coast Guard and Fisheries Agency vessels are preventing access to Panatag/Scarborough shoal, this event alone should not cause serious disruption in livelihood of Zambales/Pangasinan artisanal fisherfolk inasmuch as Panatag/Scarborough shoal is not the only fishing area accessible to them, especially areas closer to shore.

The real and underlying cause of the problem is that coastal fisherfolk are forced to range farther from the coast toward Panatag/Scarborough shoal, more than a hundred nautical miles from the coast and thus well beyond the normal range of artisanal fishing, because of serious depletion of fish stocks nearer the coast as a result of years of mismanagement of these resources. This is not a question of the right of Filipino artisanal fisherfolk to fish in Panatag/Scarborough Shoal; asserting that right is a political game among governments and fisherfolk is collateral damage. The question is whether artisanal fishing in the Panatag/ Scarborough shoal is all that critical to the health and livelihood of coastal communities in Region III whereas they should be fishing closer to shore.

Region III as ICZM model and template
14. Artisanal fisheries as a livelihood and health concern all over the country has recently been given prominent attention in the wake of the Yolanda supertyphoon in the central Visayas region (Regions VII and VIII), and in Region III on account of regional political issues. In the former instance, the problem is seen to be the destruction of the means of livelihood i.e. fishing bancas. In the latter, the problem is attributed to the loss of fishing grounds i.e. the Panatag/Scarborough Shoal.

In both instances, however, another not readily obvious concern would surface, this is depletion of fish stocks. The aforestated two possible threats to health and livelihood of coastal communities due to fisheries depletion are met in Region III. This is because Region III has an agro-fishery corridor from the western coast of Luzon (Bataan, Zambales, Pangasinan) to the Eastern coast (Aurora Province) that makes RDC-III vulnerable and exposed to the twin disasters mentioned earlier: an ongoing “political disaster” that is the South China Sea/West Philippines Sea conflict situation in its western coast; and Aurora Province in the eastern coast always vulnerable and exposed to risks of Yolanda-type disasters being in tropical typhoon range and landfall.

Moreover, in the aforestated two instances of fisheries depletion, the solution rests in a common approach through conservation in the setting of an ICZM scheme.

Region III is an ideal start-up location for developing a template and model for ICZM appropriate and most suited for archipelagic Philippines. A well-designed and implemented RDC-III agro-fisheries ICZM program could be the launch project for the country’s Blue Economy.

15. The problem of artisanal fishing affecting coastal communities as happened in Regions VII and VIII in the aftermath of Yolanda (para.8) can be conveyed in a transmuted graphic scenario for Region III, and indeed, all over the country, thus: imagine a situation of generally perfect weather conditions for fishing, and artisanal fishermen are best equipped in regard to fishing boats and fishing tools and techniques. But there is no fish to catch because of crashed fisheries. This would be a creeping disaster worse than Yolanda, and due in part to over-capitalization, or an over-capacity build-back scheme as was also seen resulting in the Aceh, Phuket and Sri Lanka tsunami of 2004, with its disastrous affect on a wider coastal fisheries scale.

Concluded in the PAFI Ambassadors’ Corner column on Saturday Jan. 3, 2015

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