Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) National Director Eduardo Gongona stressed the need for stronger enforcement measures to achieve sustainable fisheries and seafood self-sufficiency in the Philippines.
“We have to maintain and protect our traditional fishing grounds. If we properly enforce our fisheries law, then we will have enough fish. We need action, and we need to do it now,” Gongona told reporters in a press conference in Quezon City earlier this week.
Gongona said that the lack of enforcement is one of the reasons why illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing prevails, and exacerbates the damage to the Philippines’ rich but vastly threatened marine resources.
“In the Philippines, it is estimated that 56% of Filipinos’ animal protein comes from fish, and 93% of fish caught in-country are consumed domestically. Fish is not only a vital food source, it also provides livelihoods for millions of Filipinos. For a country that is dependent on the seas for sustenance and livelihood, we certainly need to be more vigilant in protecting our marine resources,” said lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice-President for Oceana Philippines.
The Philippines ranks 11th in the world as a source of seafood caught in the wild. However, destructive fishing practices such as blast fishing, bottom trawl, and modified Danish seine, and the illegal exploitation of commercial fishers in municipal waters, contributes to the rapid decline of fish supply. According to BFAR and marine scientists, 10 out of 13 of the country’s major fishing grounds are already overfished.
“Strengthened law enforcement, with sustainable fisheries management, also protects the spawning ground of fish. If our fisheries will be given time and protection to recover, it would ensure seafood security and result to increased incomes for marginalized fisherfolk, who are the country’s poorest of the poor, and our coastal residents whose lives, income and culture are tied to our oceans,” Ramos said.
Last September 21, BFAR, with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) office in Cebu and Negros, and the Philippine National Police (PNP), apprehended two fishing boats in Hagnaya Port, San Remegio in the northern part of Tañon Strait, which contained 19 thresher sharks and 70 buckets of fish believed to be caught using dynamite.
Tañon Strait is a narrow body of water between Negros and Cebu islands, and is the largest marine protected area in the Philippines.
Ramos noted that the recent apprehension is a strong indication of strengthened enforcement to deter illegal fishing in Tañon Strait.
“With the apprehension of the vessels, we expect a case to be filed soon against the owner and the crew. The illegal fishing not only violates our fisheries and conservation laws, but also the Cebu Provincial Ordinance protecting all shark species in the province,” Ramos said in a commendation letter addressed to the government agencies involved in the joint seaborne patrol operation.
Recently, the protection of thresher sharks has also gained global support after parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora voted in favor of listing these species in Appendix II, controlling their trade to ensure their survival.
BFAR is also set to donate two 30-ft fiberglass boats for seaborne patrolling in Tañon Strait.
“We are glad to note that the various national agencies are coordinating in the enforcement of fisheries and environmental laws, and exhibit strong resolve in apprehending plunderers of our oceans. This joint endeavor must be sustained, to restore fisheries abundance, and ensure the protection and conservation of our fisheries and natural resources and of course, the livelihoods of our people,” Ramos said.