Concerned government agencies, local government units (LGUs), and fishing industry stakeholders, including civil society organizations (CSOs), recently gathered in Cebu to review and strengthen the enforcement plan to protect Tañon Strait from commercial, illegal, and destructive fishing operations.
The “Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS) Enforcement summit” was attended by more than 120 participants who reviewed and identified gaps to strengthen the Tañon Strait enforcement plan, and forge their respective commitments to strongly implement the plan in the next several years.
“The participants represent key people in enforcement and respective agencies that are crucial in operationalizing the enforcement plan for Tañon Strait,” said Daniel Ocampo, campaigns manager of Oceana Philippines, one of the summit organizers.
“It was inspiring to hear the different regional heads speak and gave their respective commitments to supporting the enforcement of fisheries laws in Tañon Strait,” Ocampo said.
One of the country’s major fishing grounds, Tañon Strait lies between Cebu and Negros. It was declared as a protected seascape in 1998, but despite its declaration, commercial, illegal and destructive fishing operations still abound, depriving small fishers in Cebu and Negros to benefit from its bounty.
Tañon Strait is the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the Philippines, with an area of 5,182 square kilometers (km), more than three times the area of the Tubbataha National Park, in Palawan. It is 160 kilometers (km) long, and 5km to 27 km wide. It is home to dolphins, whales, sharks and manta rays, and many other species.
Concerted efforts in recent years to protect Tañon Strait from commercial and illegal fishing operations have scored modest accomplishments, as a result “Tañon is slowly gaining reputation nationally and internationally on protection, management and enforcement,” said Dr. Al Orolfo, Negros Island regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in his message during the opening program on December 6 at Cebu Parklane Hotel.
“Efforts to protect Tañon Strait should be sustained,” added DENR Region 7 Director Emma Melana, as she emphasized the role of their agency in safeguarding the biodiversity of Tañon Strait.
Director Allan Poquita, of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) region 7, said that the bureau will provide full support to the TSPS protected area office and the DENR and local government units to ensure that enforcement activities in Tañon Strait are sustained.
BFAR’s support includes a donation of two patrol boats to the TSPS protected area office to help in the monitoring and apprehension of commercial and illegal fishing operators in Tañon Strait. In this regard, a ceremonial signing of a memorandum of agreement was held during the summit.
TSPS protected area superintendent Prospero Am Lendio presented the approved general management plan (GMP) of Tañon Strait as well as the proposed measurers for the operationalization of the enforcement plan, which the participants painstakingly reviewed and refined, providing their inputs and commitments to implement it in the near future.
The TSPS protected area office and all other MPAs nationwide are under the supervision of the DENR under its Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB).
Other officials who served as resource persons during the summit were: assistant regional director Elias Fernandez, Jr., Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) - Region 7, who emphasized the important role of LGUs as stewards of the environment, and the protection of Tañon Strait is clearly in their mandate; and Superintendent Agustin D. Molina, chief of the Philippine National Police Regional Maritime Group 7 (PNP-RMG7), who as front liners in enforcement activities, they ensured that they will actively participate in implementing the enforcement plan of Tañon Strait.
Staunch environmental lawyer Atty. Antonio Oposa also joined the summit and enjoined participants to the singing of ‘What a wonderful world’ as a way to encourage all to make our world a better place to live in.
Other summit attendees included those from the: Philippine Coast Guard; Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary; Philippine Navy; Philippine Army; National Bureau of Investigation; deputized park rangers and fish wardens; LGU officials from Tañon Strait coastal towns in Cebu and Negros, and from Siargao; Ocean Heroes finalists and awardees; and other CSOs (Tambuyog Development Center, CCEF, ZSL, Environment Law Assistance Center).