Oceana, scientists, other civil society groups push for immediate reversion of unproductive fishponds to mangroves - Oceana Philippines
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Oceana, scientists, other civil society groups push for immediate reversion of unproductive fishponds to mangroves

Press Release Date: February 14, 2024

International organization, Oceana, along with scientific experts and other civil society organization call on the government to initiate urgent actions to revert back to original mangrove forests all abandoned, undeveloped and underutilized (AUU) fishponds as mandated by the Amended Fisheries Code to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change.

In a letter sent to Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Francis Tiu Laurel and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Antonia Yulo Loyzaga in December last year, the signatories from more than 10 international and local conservation organizations, reminded the government officials that the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) underscores key actions that enhance adaptive capacity and resilience of communities and natural ecosystems to climate change.

“The protection and rehabilitation of critical ecosystems, such as mangroves, beach forests and coastal wetlands, and the restoration of their ecological services contribute to our international commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework which target the effective conservation and management of at least 30% of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans,” their letter stated.

The groups said the Philippines once had vast and thriving areas of mangroves totaling an estimated 450,000 hectares recorded in 1918. Unfortunately, over 50% of these mangroves have been lost, primarily due to fishpond conversion and other coastal development projects. In fact, the country is now ranked as the second worst country in Southeast Asia in terms of mangrove losses.

Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President, raised concerns on the inconsistencies in the implementation of existing laws and the policies issued by DA-BFAR and DENR to manage AUU fishponds.

The Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines (PD 705) in 1975 was bolstered by the passage of Republic Act 7161, which bans the cutting of all mangrove species.  Thereafter, Congress passed the Philippine Fisheries Code in 1998 where Sections 46 and 49 mandate that all AUU fishponds shall be reverted to their original mangrove state. “The law is clear that the grant of Fishpond Lease Agreements come with mandatory conditions, such as automatic reversion back to mangroves once the fishponds have been abandoned, or remain undeveloped or underutilized. However, the implementation of this provision remains slow,” Ramos added.

The groups cited inconsistencies in the policies with the DA-BFAR-issued Fisheries Office Order 115 in March 28, 2011 which provides for an institutional framework to make the AUU fishponds as productive assets under a community-based management system and involves fisherfolk organizations and cooperatives. Then in 2012, BFAR issued Fisheries Administrative Order 197-1 that sets out a process for cancellation of Fishpond Lease Agreements (FLAs) and promotes aqua silviculture stewardship contracts.

“We learned that FAO 197-1 is in the process of amendments as FAO 197-2. From the initial copy that we got, we found it to be all about fishponds or other aquaculture and nothing in the provisions are friendly to, or supportive of, mangroves. The attempt to include mangrove-friendly aquaculture failed in defining the metrics to ensure the survival and growth of these intertidal trees. We are also calling on the BFAR to delete Section II on Leases and Permits because there are no more available areas for fishpond development,” said Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, Chief Mangrove Scientific Advisor of the Zoological Society of London and one of the signatories of the letter to DA-BFAR and DENR.

Primavera said there needs to be a comprehensive inventory of all AUU fishponds, FLAs and other culture ponds, and a national guideline on determining AUU fishponds. She said a review of the practice of assigning FLA rights to financial institutions and the proposal to allow AUU fishponds to be converted to salt farms are among the other issues that require the necessary actions and reexamination from DA-BFAR and DENR.

The 2023 data released by the DA-BFAR showed there are around 994.0946 hectares of fishponds with or without FLAs reverted to DENR’s jurisdiction. Likewise, the Fisheries Bureau identified 55.2015 hectares of fishponds operating without FLAs.

Primavera said the reversion of AUU fishponds to mangroves is key to achieve the 4:1 mangrove-pond ratio that according to the Barbier et al. study[1] in 2008 is required to attain environmental sustainability and maximum economic value from combined mangrove goods, services and uses including aquaculture ponds. At present, the Philippines has a 1:1 mangrove-pond ratio at approximately 250,000 ha each.

The mangroves scientific expert said carbon sequestration is important as a Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation (CCAM) measure. Regenerating mangroves in abandoned ponds showed higher levels of carbon capture (~650 Mg C/ha) vs natural mangroves at ~350 Mg C/ha[2] (Duncan et al., 2016).

“Why doesn’t DA-BFAR encourage the existing fishponds towards achieving the 4:1 mangrove to pond ratio? The agency should craft and implement guidelines, in close coordination with the DENR, to treat the mangrove portion as a biological asset for blue carbon credit trading. This will attract fishpond owners and operators to conserve, restore and rehabilitate the mangroves in their fishpond areas and engage into the lucrative blue carbon market,” explained Primavera.

The groups said a win-win nature-based solution must be aspired to for the benefit of all stakeholders at present and in the future. (END)


Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 300 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit Oceana.org and ph.oceana.org to learn more.

[1] Barbier, E.B., Evamaria W. Koch, Brian R. Silliman, Sally D. Hacker, Eric Wolanski, Jurgenne Primavera, Elise F. Granek, Stephen Polasky, Shankar Aswani, Lori A. Cramer, David M. Stoms, Chris J. Kennedy, David Bael, Carrie V. Kappel, Gerardo M. E. Perillo, Denise J. Reed. Coastal Ecosystem–BasednManagement with Nonlinear Ecological Functions and Values. (2008). Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1150349 https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1150349

[2] Duncan C, Pettorelli N, Koldewey HJ, Thompson JR, Loma RJA, Primavera JH. 2016. Rehabilitating mangrove ecosystem services: a case study on the relative benefits of abandoned pond reversion from Panay Island, Philippines. Mar. Poll. Bull. 109: 772-787 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.05.049


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