Fisherfolk join Oceana’s ‘Fisherfolk Classroom’ to boost law enforcement, paralegal know-how
2022: The International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture
Press Release Date: January 17, 2022
“It is appalling how our fisherfolk have remained one of the poorest sectors in the country despite being an essential component to attaining food security. By providing them with the orientation on the laws and policies related to enforcement that they need, especially in dealing with the pandemic and threats to our ocean’s ecological integrity, they will be motivated to be active participants in managing the country’s fisheries,” explained Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President.
For the country’s primary seafood providers, can distance learning help turn the tide to increase their fish catch and improve their livelihood and well-being?
For 45 years, a fisherfolk has been fishing in the waters off his hometown of Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro. Like most of our fishers, he learned to fish at a young age and has depended on the sea for livelihood and sustenance ever since. But he notes that over time their catch has declined, “Dito na ako lumaki, mga 15 years old ako noong nagsimulang mangisda. Noon, nakakahuli ako ng pito hanggang 10 kilo. Ngayon, minsan isang isda na lang ang nahuhuli ko kasi nakukuha na nila (commercial fishers).”
(This is where I grew up. I was around 15 years old when I started to fish. Before, I would catch seven to 10 kilos. Now, sometimes it is down to a single fish because they’ve taken them all.)
He recounted to international advocacy group Oceana during a focus group discussion how the persistent illegal commercial fishing activities in the municipal waters of Oriental Mindoro are hurting artisanal fisherfolk. By law, municipal waters or the 15 kilometers from the shoreline, are reserved for the preferential use and access of subsistence fisherfolk.
“Dito sa amin, dahil sa pandemya at dahil wala masyadong nakabantay, sa totoo lang may pumapasok din talaga na iligal siguro dahil alam nila na walang nagbabantay. Ang gamit nila ay compressor at lambat na nakakasira sa mga corals. Ihuhulog nila sa bahura tapos compressor ang gagamitin—sira ang corals. Ganoon ang nagiging experience namin,” lamented the fisherfolk who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the illegal fishing perpetrators in their area.
(Where we are based, the pandemic has led to diminished safeguards; illegal commercial fishing vessels take advantage of this. They use compressors and nets that are destructive to corals. They drop their nets on the corals and use compressors—destroying them. That is our experience here.)
Some illegal fishing vessels have armed protectors, recounts 59-year-old fisher Henry Candia whose previous experience as fish warden in Ragay Gulf brought him face to face with armed escorts of a vessel using purse seine nets. Purse seines are active gears which are prohibited in municipal waters. “Ang problema ay yung purse seiner may tinatawag na escort – may active diyan na protector – so hinuli namin, kami ang binalikan na kung tutuusin nasa loob siya ng municipal waters.”
Candia lamented, “nakakadismaya kasi walang legal support samantalang nagtatrabaho na kami ng libre. Kami ang masigasig na nagpapatupad ng batas pangisdaan – nasa tama – subalit kami pa ‘yung nababaliktad ang sitwasyon. Noong kinasuhan kami ng may-ari, lumapit kami sa mayor, parang nawalang-saysay ‘yung isinampa naming kaso. Binaliktad kami.”
(Our problem in pursuing the purse seiner is that they have an escort – an active protector. We still made the arrest but then they turned the tables on us even though they were operating within municipal waters. The lack of legal support is disheartening because we are working for free. We are on the side of the law, so why are we the ones being persecuted? When the business owner filed a case against us, we asked the mayor for help – it was as if the case we filed was worthless. They turned against us.)
In 2019, the country’s territorial waters were subdivided into 12 Fisheries Management Areas (FMAs) following the issuance of the Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 263 by the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR). Under this system, fisherfolk have an integral role as fisheries managers, and members of the FMAs’ management body which is tasked with issuing science-based policies for the sustainable management of fisheries.
Throughout 2021, Oceana held numerous engagements with the goal of responding to the challenges faced by fisherfolk and preparing them to become active representatives in the FMAs. Ahead of 2022, the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, fisherfolk have shed light to issues and urgent concerns through various discussions and learning sessions during Oceana’s fisherfolk classroom sessions which were held online because of the pandemic restrictions to face-to-face learning.
Earlier discussions centered on the move to oppose House Bill No. 7853 which sought to amend the Fisheries Code as amended by RA 10654 by seeking to legalize the presence of commercial fishing vessels in municipal waters. Fisherfolk voiced their strong opposition to the proposed measure, citing that the aim of the bill shows blatant disregard for the Philippine Fisheries Code (RA 8550 as amended by RA 10654). By amplifying municipal fisherfolk’s voices and local authorities’ opposition against HB 7853, more than 1,000 fisherfolk leaders’ joined hands with various stakeholders including Oceana, NGOs, academe, and the youth sector to fight the measure in Congress.
Oceana has been working to strengthen fisherfolk’s law enforcement and paralegal knowledge to better equip them for their shared role in protecting the country’s municipal waters. This includes an overview of Oceana’s boat detection platform Karagatan Patrol that has aided both fisherfolk and law enforcers in tracking commercial fishing vessels inside municipal waters, and in running after other illegal fishing activities. They have banded together for this noble mission through the platform’s Facebook community.
Karagatan Patrol, which uses Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) satellite technology to detect lure lights used by commercial fishing boats, has been hailed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) as an important tool in the protection of municipal waters and in securing marine protected areas (MPAs).
The recent paralegal training conducted by Oceana, sought to respond and address fisherfolk’s grievances on the weak implementation of the country’s fisheries laws. For the fisherfolk participants, the sessions were able to build their confidence as fish wardens, “malaking dagdag ito sa aming kaalaman na kapag kami ay maninita, mag-apprehend, ay pwede na naming sabihin na ganun pala ang batas.”
(The sessions added to our knowledge which will help us when we make apprehensions. We can now say this is what is stated in the law.)
Ramos explains that Oceana’s discussions with fisherfolk was “not a one-way street. Our sessions with the fisherfolk provide Oceana with valuable insights on illegal commercial fishing activities in municipal waters, plastic pollution, offshore mining, and marine protected areas – firsthand information that only they can give us and have guided us on our thrust to achieve national fisheries policies reforms and conservation efforts in the Philippines.”
“Oceana recognizes that our fisherfolk, in collaboration with all stakeholders including government and civil society sectors, are key players and an integral part of every effort to conserve and sustainably manage the country’s fisheries and marine resources,” Ramos added.
Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.
For more information:
Joyce Sierra, Communications Manager, Oceana
Mobile: 09178214430 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org