2014 AGRICULTURE STORY OF THE YEAR
"Fish in troubled waters"
By Cherry Ann T. Lim and Liberty Pinili
Sun Star Cebu
Fish in troubled waters (First of three parts)
Visayan Sea mayday
Plummeting fish stocks threaten livelihood, food security
THE fish population in the Visayan Sea, one of the country’s major fishing grounds, has been exploited 70 percent, beyond its capacity to replenish, threatening not just the livelihood of thousands of fisherfolk but also the country’s food security.
National Stock Assessment Program (NSAP) Visayan Sea project leader Prudencio Belga Jr. said the exploitation rate of commercial fisheries in the area has surpassed the exploration ratio of 50 percent, the threshold at which commercial dominant marine fish stock can recoup from natural deaths and death by fishing.
“This is alarming. We are exploiting our fish stock beyond its capacity to replenish,” he said.
In Central Visayas (Region 7), fish is the main source of cheap animal protein, since prices of poultry and meat are more prohibitive.
Fishing also provides livelihood for many families living below the poverty line.
This means when overfishing cuts the fish supply, the health and incomes of the poorest communities will suffer, according to “The Fisheries of Central Visayas, Philippines: Status and Trends,” the 2004 publication of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Bfar) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP).
It said poor families already suffered when fish prices rose “1,400 percent” from 1977 to 2003 because fish catch declined despite the significant increase in fishing effort in the region.
Ahead of World Oceans Day on June 8, Sun.Star Cebu explores in this three- part special report the harm caused by overfishing in the Visayas, and the challenges faced by those seeking to protect marine resources from overexploitation.
The 10,000-square-kilometer Visayan Sea is bounded by Masbate in the north, Cebu in the southeast, Negros in the south and Panay in the west. It is shared by 22 municipalities in four provinces: Masbate (in Region 5), Iloilo and Negros Occidental (Region 6) and Cebu (Region 7).
In 1995, the Bfar’s NSAP said, the Visayan Sea “ranked third in the commercial fisheries sector with 13.46 percent contribution (equivalent to 120,000 metric tons) to the country’s total fish harvest, and first in the municipal sector with a share of 11.28 percent (89,000 metric tons).”
But by 2005, NSAP figures (from Regions 6 and 7) showed landed catch for commercial fishery in the Visayan Sea plummeting to 30,251 mt, then to 19,089 mt by 2011. For municipal fishery, NSAP figures (Regions 5, 6 and 7) showed a 98 percent drop in landed catch to 1,605 mt by 2011.
In just seven years, municipal fishermen saw their catch nearly halve from 92.67 kilograms per day in 2004 (measured as catch per unit effort) to 50.29 kg/day by 2011. From 1,117 kg/day in 2004, commercial fishing operators’ catch dove to 661 kg/day in 2011.
Freddie Baguio, 40, president of the Panaghugpong sa Day-asanong Mananagat in Barangay Day-as, Cordova town, Cebu, recalled that many years ago, he did not have to go far to fish.
“Daghang isda diri sauna (There was a lot of fish here before),” he said, pointing to the seawater off the barangay’s thick mangrove forest. But these days, he said, he has to go farther out and stay as long as five hours and come home with very little.
“This could be the effect of climate change. Some commercial fishing vessels also encroach in municipal waters,” he said in Cebuano.
Some mangroves in Day-as were also damaged last August when spilled oil from the sunken m/v St. Thomas Aquinas reached Cordova. The boat had collided with Sulpicio Express Siete off Talisay City.
Mangroves provide food and shelter to juvenile fish and other marine organisms, helping to improve fish populations.
Overfishing that leads to fish catch declines will hurt the economy, as the fishing industry contributes 1.9 percent to the gross domestic product.
Depleted fish stocks could also mean the loss of jobs for 1,614,368 individuals nationwide who rely on fishery for livelihood, more than 125,000 of them in Central Visayas.
Food security is also at risk, as Bfar reveals that fish and fish products make up 11.7 percent of the Filipino’s daily food consumption or more than half of the animal protein he consumes.
As early as 2001, Bfar officials had already noted that the Visayan Sea could no longer yield enough marine products for everyone in the Visayas, Sun.Star Cebu reported in 2002. So the country could not rely on local production alone.
In 2011, the Philippines imported US $217 million worth of fish and fishery
products, which included $102 million worth (or 132,707 metric tons) of tuna, mackerel and sardines.
Total Philippine fishery production (capture and culture of aquatic plants and animals) that year had slid 3.6 percent to 4.97 million metric tons from 2010.
See the signs
Fisheries expert Nygiel Armada said there is overfishing when catch and catch rates decline despite increased effort (longer time at sea or use of more efficient gear), there are increasing mortality and exploitation rates, changes or shifts in species composition, leveling off of marine landings, and concentration of fishing efforts within a small area.
Belga said declining fish stocks is caused by increased fishing efforts. He said commercial fishing is the major contributor to overfishing because of the gear used.
“One commercial fishing vessel can get tons of fish in one night,” he said. Municipal fishermen, on the other hand, can get only a few kilos if they are lucky.
Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 declares the sea extending 15 kilometers from the shore of a town or city as municipal waters, where municipal fisherfolk have preferential rights. Municipal fisherfolk are those who catch fish using boats or bancas of three gross tons or less, or without using boats.
In Central Visayas, there are 56,142 municipal fishing bancas and 565 commercial fishing vessels.
Municipal fisherfolk caught 52,816.9 metric tons, while commercial fishing operations yielded 39,836 metric tons in 2011. This shows that each municipal fishing banca caught about .94 ton while one commercial fishing vessel caught 70.51 tons in
Central Visayas is surrounded by the Visayan Sea, Camotes Sea, Danajon Bank,
Tañon Strait, Cebu Strait, Bohol Sea and East Sulu Sea.
RA 8550 provides that Bfar impose catch ceilings in fishing grounds to prevent overfishing and depletion of breeding stocks. The catch ceiling would be based on the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) to be determined by Bfar.
The MSY is the largest average quantity of fish that can be harvested from a fish stock/resource within a period of time on a sustainable basis.
But Bfar Director Asis Perez said the MSY cannot be applied to Philippine fishing grounds, which are multi-species. He said the MSY can be applied on specific species, like tuna, a pelagic migratory species.
The Philippines is part of a regional body that ensures the management of tuna.
Bfar adviser Armada said catch ceilings can still be imposed in fishing grounds even without the MSY by regulating the number of fishing vessels in an area.
Armada, also deputy chief of party of the Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries (Ecofish) Project, said surveys indicate that the kinds of fish caught have changed.
“We are now getting what we used to consider as trash fish,” he said.
He said the presence of trash fish or species of low commercial value is an indication of overfishing because some of them serve as food for bigger fish. “Their population has grown because their predators are no longer there,” he said.
This has implications on fisherfolk incomes. Trash fish bring low returns to fishermen whose costs, like fuel for their motorized bancas and kerosene for lamps, continue to rise.
Armada also said in a 2004 study that the abundance of shrimp and squid in relation to fish biomass indicates decline of catch. Shrimp and squid have replaced finfish in the food web.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), trash fish in the Philippines come in two categories: the commercially known fish that are too small for the fresh fish market and the non-commercially known species both in adult and juvenile forms.
Demersal (bottom-dwelling) fish include slipmouths, lizardfishes, goatfishes, mullets, mojarras, flatfishes and glassfishes. Non-commercial fish groups consist of cardinal fish, puffer fish, trigger fish, trumpet fish, flying gurnards, goby fish and filefish.
The 1998-2002 NSAP listed sunrise goatfish (timbugan) among the major commercial fish species in the Visayan Sea. In Bfar’s 2011 Fisheries Profile, slipmouth (sapsap) was among the major species caught by commercial fishery with a catch of 19,533 metric tons.
“Landings of low value/trash fish in the Philippines result mainly from the use of demersal gear,” read the FAO report, which was based on 2003 data. “About 41 percent of total low value/trash fish landings are caught by trawls, 22 percent by modified Danish seine, 12 percent by beach seine, and four percent by push net.”
Hurting the poor
Initially, the effects of overfishing hurt municipal fisherfolk the most because they
are the ones who cannot afford to venture into other means of livelihood on their own. But Armada said ultimately, everyone suffers once fish stocks are depleted.
Municipal fisherfolk are also the first to feel the effects of the pollution of coastal waters, degradation of coral reefs and destruction of mangrove forests.
Leonardo Sumagang and his wife Lucrecia rely on their daily catch of bakasi, an eel that serves as the main ingredient of Cordova’s delicacy.
Sumagang said his catch has not been able to recover since the oil spill in August although some mangroves in Day-as have started to grow new leaves. Last Saturday, he returned home at midmorning with less than a kilo of bakasi, which his wife sold for about P100 to a local restaurant.
But commercial fishing operators deny overfishing is taking place.
Romeo Villaceran, president of the Northern Cebu Commercial Fishing Operators Association (NCCFOA), said in Cebuano: “It is even difficult for us to raise the net to the surface because of the volume of fish caught. So you can’t say the sea has been overfished.”
His boats have even risked overturning from the bounty of the sea, he said.
He told Sun.Star Cebu that small fishermen often blame commercial operators for their small catch when their predicament is the result of other causes, like their preference to go drinking instead of fishing if they were able to catch a lot of fish the day before.
He said climate change or the warming of the seas may also explain why the fish seem fewer.
Fish usually congregate near the surface of the water, where it is easy to spot and catch them. But when the water is warm, the fish prefer to go to the deeper and cooler parts of the ocean, favoring commercial operators who have the equipment to fish in deep water, he said.
Commercial fishing is done using passive or active gear on fishing vessels at least 3.1 gross tons. It is not allowed in municipal waters, unless the local government unit (LGU) permits it in the 10.1 to 15 kilometer area and only if the depth is at least seven fathoms.
With about 50 active members, the NCCFOA supplies some 80 percent of the fish in the province of Cebu, said Villaceran.
He said commercial fishing operators had done a lot of good, lifting incomes and enabling many residents to become professionals.
Before commercial fishing, many residents just engaged in farming, the proceeds of which were not enough to send their children to college. But now, fishermen can get a big share in the proceeds and also get cash advances from their employers, he said.
He himself has put the children, and even the wives, of his fishermen through school.
Since each boat carries 50 fishermen or workers, it can help 50 families, he said, aside from the laborers in the ports, including the Pasil Fish Port in Cebu City, where their fish is brought.
Closing the sea
He said when the Bfar implemented a closed season for sardines and mackerel
in the Visayan Sea from Nov. 15, 2012 to March 15, 2013 to protect fish stocks, 70 percent of the group’s fishermen had to go as far as Leyte, Palawan and Masbate to catch fish.
The rest stopped fishing and planted crops instead, earning less than fishing. He said if LGUs provided help to the displaced fishermen, it was probably minimal.
The Bfar, however, attempted to help those affected by the closed season by encouraging the commercial fishermen to farm fish.
Villaceran said they were just starting to enjoy growing bangus (milkfish) and lapu-lapu (grouper) near the Hagnaya Port in San Remigio town when super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) destroyed their fish farms last Nov. 8.
Traumatized by the loss of their investment, none of them has returned to fish farming, Villaceran said, though it would have been a good business since the cost of farming fish was similar to the cost of catching fish in the wild.
He said fish farms in Metro Manila are better protected because these are surrounded by mountains and that region has big lakes, unlike in Cebu.
Aside from the failed fish farming venture, the group tried to improve fish stocks by installing more than 200 fish condominiums in the marine sanctuary of Visayan Sea Squadron (VSS) chairman Antonio Oposa in Sta. Fe town, Bantayan Island. The VSS monitors illegal activities in the Visayan Sea and prosecutes violators.
The three-storey fish condos made of bamboo and used fish nets, and covered with limestone and cement mixture, serve as alternative shelter for fish, and breeding and nursery areas for marine life, especially after Yolanda damaged the coral reefs in
The plan was to encircle Bantayan Island with 1,000 fish condos, but Villaceran said the operators were “discouraged” from continuing the project after constant threats by the Bfar, which materialized in Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 246 last year, to take their livelihood away from them by disallowing the use of Danish seine and modified Danish seine (locally called holbot-holbot, zipper, palusot, bira-bira, hulahoop, liba-liba or buli-buli) as fishing methods in Philippine waters.
The Sept. 12, 2013 order gave them six months to switch to legitimate fishing gear.
Villaceran said most of the NCCFOA members used the “zipper” method.
Danish seine consists of a conical net with a pair of wings, the ends of which are connected to a rope embedded with buri, plastic strips, sinkers or similar materials to serve as scaring/herding device and hauled through a mechanical winch or by manpower. In modified Danish seine, hauling ropes pass through a ring permanently attached to a tom weight.
“They say the ring destroys the bottom of the ocean and the corals,” said Villaceran. “They (Bfar) were the ones who introduced that fishing method, but they did not introduce a new method to replace that.”
The 2004 Bfar-CMRP publication said Danish seine fishery was introduced to Central Visayas in the 1980s as large-scale municipal fishing gear. Full commercial operation occurred after Bfar in 1986 provided the gear’s commercial size design and
trained fishermen to use it.
Aside from Danish seine operators able to stay away from corals, Villaceran said
disturbing the seabed was not always bad.
He said this action releases plankton, which fish feed on, drawing fish to the area
that otherwise would just pass without stopping.
An alternative fishing method, approved by Bfar, he said, is purse seine. But this
is costly because of the hydraulics involved, so commercial fishing operators filed a case and received a temporary restraining order preventing the Bfar from implementing FAO 246.
Purse seine is an encircling net with a line at the bottom passing through rings attached to the net, which can be drawn or pursed.
Villaceran said clamping down on commercial fishing operators in Cebu would only benefit the fishermen in Zamboanga (in Mindanao) who, even now, threaten their livelihood.
Whenever they sell their fish in Cebu, they drive down prices, hurting business, he said.
From the usual P1,500 to P2,000 they could get for each tub of fish carrying 30 to 35 kilos, the price would drop to P300-P400/tub because the Zamboanga fishermen could bring to Cebu as many as 1,000-3,000 tubs in a single night.
“Arkansi sa crudo. Unya trucking pa,” he said. (We can no longer recover the cost of our boat fuel and the trucking expense.)
Despite the resistance of fishermen, the Bfar is not losing hope that it can stop
Belga said that in a previous survey, the exploitation rate of the Visayan Sea was
80 percent. He attributed the improvement to 70 percent to law enforcement efforts and the four-month closed season in the Visayan Sea.
Armada said the biomass of demersal fish in the Visayan Sea has improved.
He cited trawl surveys by the bureau and partner organizations showing that from 1.63 metric tons per square kilometer (mt/km2) in 2007, fish biomass rose to 2.56 mt/ km2 in 2013.
This shows that if fishermen just give the sea a chance to renew itself, it will.
(Tomorrow: Augmenting fish production no easy task)
Fish in troubled waters (Second of three parts)
Paper caper, harmful farm
Licensing, aquaculture take heat as efforts to save fish hurt mangroves; integrated solutions sought
By Liberty A. Pinili
Sun.Star Cebu, June 6, 2014 Others Section, Page 12
LIKE a Facebook relationship status, overfishing in the Visayan Sea is a complicated issue that cannot be addressed by a single solution.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Bfar) has implemented programs to manage commercial fishing efforts, enforce prohibitions on destructive fishing practices and provide alternative livelihood opportunities to fisherfolk in the
The Visayan Sea is one of the country’s major fishing grounds. It falls under the
jurisdiction of the Bicol Region, and Western and Central Visayas.
Among the methods to manage fishing efforts is imposing closed seasons. To
allow sardines and mackerel to replenish their stocks, the Bfar implemented a four- month closed season starting Nov. 15, 2012 to March 15, 2013 in the Visayan Sea.
Prudencio Belga Jr., project leader of Bfar’s National Stock Assessment Program (NSAP) for the Visayan Sea, said the closed season may have helped bring down the exploitation ratio of commercial fish stocks in the Visayan Sea to 70 percent from 80 percent.
The closed season coincides with the spawning period of sardines and mackerel.
Nygiel Armada, deputy chief of party of the Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries (Ecofish) Project, agreed with Belga but pointed out that the closed season is a “remedial solution.”
“It will make a dent, but it will not solve the problem,” he said. “The ultimate solution is to bring down fishing efforts to sustainable levels.”
Armada, former fisheries management adviser of Bfar, said one way to do this is to improve the licensing of commercial fishing vessels and municipal fisherfolk.
Under Republic Act (RA) 8550, known as The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, any person or entity that wishes to engage in commercial fishing must secure a license from the Bfar.
Commercial fishing operators are supposed to secure one license for every fishing vessel they own. But Armada said some operators secure only one license, which they use for all their fishing vessels.
“They just change the name on the license (which bears the name of the vessel). They’re basically tampering with the license,” he said.
The practice prevents Bfar from getting the correct figures on the actual catch of commercial fishing operators, hampering efforts to better manage fish stocks.
Armada recommends the following: imposing stricter rules to prevent the tampering of licenses, imposing a premium for every additional boat licensed to a commercial fishing operator, strengthening the registration of municipal fisherfolk, and abolishing open access licenses so that new licenses will be limited to a specific fishing ground.
He also recommends providing more effective livelihood opportunities, and increasing the value of fish through processing.
Armada said efforts to bring down fishing efforts to sustainable levels should aim for a fish biomass of 3.5 to four metric tons per square kilometer.
According to a Bfar trawl survey in 2013, the fish biomass in the Visayan Sea was 2.56 metric tons per square kilometer. The survey was conducted before super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated many areas in the Visayas last November.
To achieve the sustainable yield, the government has to put its foot down on reducing the number of fishing vessels in operation, Armada said.
A scheme can be developed allowing fishing vessels to operate in shifts so that
fishing operators can recoup their investments without breaching catch ceilings, he said.
Armada said that while commercial and municipal fisherfolk both contribute to overfishing, Bfar has identified the former as the priority target of its crackdown on overfishing because of the amount of fish commercial fishing vessels can catch.
On the other hand, Ecofish is working with some local government units (LGUs) to develop an efficient system of registering fisherfolk and recording their catch.
“The goal is to rightsize the fishing effort (at the municipal level) affecting a certain stock,” he said.
Amid the need to regulate fishing efforts, the government, through Bfar, also raises the need to improve the productivity of the aquaculture sector.
In 2011, the combined aquaculture production in Regions 5, 6, 7 and 8 reached 128,282 metric tons for fish and 325,435 metric tons for mussels and seaweeds.
The aquaculture sector, which helps fill the demand for fish and other aquatic products, includes persons and entities that have been allowed to convert foreshore and mangrove areas into brackish water fishponds using a fishpond lease agreement (FLA) from the Bfar.
FLAs are good for 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.
So the development of fishponds has been done at the expense of mangrove forests.
A study by Romeo Dieta and Florida Arboleda of the National Brackishwater Aquaculture Technology Research Center of Bfar states that the country’s mangrove
forests disappeared at 6,685 hectares a year from 1950 to 1972.
“The period coincided with the large-scale conversion of mangrove areas into
fishponds,” the study reads.
As early as 1932, the first Fisheries Act, which was Commonwealth Act 4003,
already included mangroves among the public forest lands that could be granted permits and leases for fishpond construction.
Dieta et al. said the reason is that coastal areas and resources were managed then under the assumption that while there was limited demand for fish, its supply was unlimited.
Mangroves provide the habitat for many aquatic organisms, including crabs, shells and juvenile fish. A study by Alan White and A. Trinidad in 1998 pointed out that the direct economic values from mangrove wood and fish products range from $150 to $1,396 per hectare a year.
More rapid expansion of aquaculture was brought about by Presidential Decree (PD) 43 of 1972, which transferred the jurisdiction of public land available for fishpond development to Bfar, and PD 704, the Fisheries Decree of 1975.
Sections 23 to 25 of PD 704 defined the disposition of public lands for fishponds. Tidal swamps and mangroves were again included in PD 43’s definition of public land available for fishpond development.
Wilfredo Yap, in an appendix to the report “Strategy for Sustainable Aquaculture Development for Poverty Reduction” by the WorldFish Center and Pacific Rim Innovation and Management Exponents Inc. Philippines in 2007, said that although
brackish water fishponds share 87 percent of the total aquaculture area, they contribute only 52.8 percent to total production and have the lowest average yield of 1.06 tons per hectare, compared to fresh water ponds with 5.19 tons per hectare.
In Cebu alone, 160 FLAs have been issued covering 1,204.31 hectares.
Alan White and R. De Leon in the Status of Philippine Marine Fisheries (2004) noted that most FLA areas are underutilized or used for purposes other than aquaculture.
Bfar Director Asis Perez said the bureau has started cancelation proceedings on several fishponds considered abandoned, unused and underutilized for five years, but some are under appeal by the operators.
The secretary of the Department of Agriculture, of which Bfar is a line bureau, gives the final approval for the cancelation of FLAs. But Perez said some fishpond operators even go to Malacañang to appeal their cases.
RA 8550, passed in 1998, provides that once an FLA is canceled, the fishpond should revert to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which will then rehabilitate the area by reforesting it.
The law also prohibited the conversion of mangroves for any purpose, including fishponds.
DENR Administrative Order 98-17 also prohibited the conversion of mangrove forests for fishpond development. DENR identified fishpond development as a major cause of mangrove deforestation.
Despite calls for the implementation of the law, the Mangrove Management
Handbook of the Philippines 2000 points out that the reversion of abandoned fishponds under FLAs is an “extremely difficult activity that requires considerable time and resources to accomplish. For this reason, there is little practical experience with restoring disused fishponds back into mangroves.”
Options for fisherfolk
In 2010, more than 22 percent of the production of fish, crustaceans and mollusks in the Philippines was undertaken through aquaculture, up from 17 percent in 2003, Bfar data showed.
The 62 percent growth of aquaculture (excluding aquatic plants) during this period versus the 20 percent growth in capture fishing (excluding aquatic plants) highlights the importance of aquaculture in maintaining the fish supply.
But Armada said aquaculture to deter capture fishing is not an equitable option. Because aquaculture entails investment, very few municipal fisherfolk are able to venture into it.
“The law no longer allows the development of new fishponds, so recent aquaculture activities are mostly at sea. But even then, you need money to build fish cages,” he said.
Freddie Baguio, president of Panaghugpong sa Day-asanong Mananagat (Padama) in Cordova town, Cebu, however, said the fisherfolk organization was able to create more options for its members. One was to build a fish cage about a kilometer from the shore in Barangay Day-as.
Padama obtained the funds to build the fish cage by requiring members to give a
portion of their daily earnings to the association to finance projects and activities that benefit the group.
Baguio said the grouper fingerlings grown at the fish cage are still too young to be harvested.
“Wa mi kasugod dayon kay naghuwat mi na mawagtang tong oil spill (We had to wait for the oil spill to disappear before putting in the fingerlings),” he said.
Two ships collided off Talisay City last August, resulting in an oil spill after one of the ships sank.
So the organization can earn revenues while waiting for the grouper to mature, Baguio organized tours to the fish cage and neighboring areas using the three motorized bancas that Padama had purchased earlier.
He said he also encouraged members to use the motorized bancas to fish at night using a kerosene lamp and net.
He said two members can use one boat for night fishing. Members have a schedule to follow when using the boats so that everyone benefits.
Baguio said Padama guards the coastal areas of Barangay Day-as and the fish cage. But he admitted that they are no match for some commercial fishermen who encroach on the municipal waters.
He said some members are afraid of the commercial fishing vessels whose crews are rumored to be armed.
Environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr. raised the need for stronger law enforcement in guarding municipal waters, where coral reefs exist.
Belga said dynamite fishing, which destroys coral reefs, has been minimized in the Visayan Sea.
However, discussions during the recent Environmental Law Talks 3, organized by the University of Cebu and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, raised the threat posed by commercial fishing vessels that encroach on municipal waters on the livelihood of small- scale fisherfolk. Among the areas in Cebu mentioned by forum participants were Alegria, Barili and San Remigio towns.
Lawyer Liza Eisma-Osorio, managing trustee of the Philippine Earth Justice Center, said law enforcement is often weak in areas where there are commercial fishing operators.
Oposa said lack of funds and personnel are not enough reasons for inaction against illegal fishing. Local government officials only need political will, he said, citing the town of Bantayan, Cebu. (See Part 3 of this special report tomorrow for more on the secrets of Bantayan town’s success.)
Oposa, who initiated the Visayan Sea Squadron, helped the Bantayan Police and Bantay Dagat prosecute illegal fisherfolk by designing a pro forma complaint sheet. The complaint sheet simplified the process of filing cases before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, because Bantay Dagat personnel would just fill in the spaces for the name of the accused, nature of violation, place and time.
But some forum participants said few cases against illegal fishers reach the trial stage because judges take pity on the accused, who are usually indigent.
Enforcement of fishing regulations is ineffective when government fails to offer
alternative livelihood that works.
When the closed season was implemented in the Visayan Sea, commercial
fishermen were offered assistance to go into aquaculture.
At the national level, Bfar helps fisherfolk by providing technology and materials
for aquaculture and seaweed farming. It also encourages processing of fishery products to add value to the catch of fisherfolk.
In 2010, the Philippines ranked 10th in the world in the aquaculture of fish, crustaceans and mollusks, Bfar said. It ranked third in the aquaculture of aquatic plants, including seaweed.
But Armada said fish cages are not advisable in the Visayan Sea, which is often visited by typhoons.
He said Ecofish is studying enterprise development strategies that will provide alternative livelihood to municipal fisherfolk.
Head for land
Osorio, who also works with the Sto. Niño de Cebu Augustinian Social Development Foundation (Snaf), said land-based livelihood provides better options.
“The objective is to take the pressure out of the marine resources,” she said.
She said Snaf plans to train residents in Kinatarcan Island of Sta. Fe town, Bantayan Island, Cebu to produce turmeric and moringa (from the malunggay plant), high-value plant products.
Bfar’s Perez pointed out during the forum that stakeholders—government and the private sector—should take an integrated approach in protecting and managing the country’s marine resources.
“Whatever happens on land affects the sea. So you have to protect the forest if you want to protect the sea,” he said.
Deforestation causes soil erosion that generates sediments, which are carried by rivers and streams to the sea and kill corals. Pollution that occurs inland and garbage thrown in rivers also end up in the sea and kill marine organisms.
In an effort to rehabilitate degraded coral reefs, the government—through the DENR and Bfar—encouraged LGUs to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) in their municipal waters.
Coral reefs support other marine life by providing them with food and shelter.
An MPA has two distinct features: the strict protection zone and the buffer zone. All types of human activity are prohibited in the strict protection zone. Although MPAs are no-take or no fishing zones, some, like the Gilutongan Island Marine Sanctuary in Cordova, allow snorkeling and diving to collect users’ fees, which fund the maintenance of the reserve.
According to the 2012 “Marine Protected Area Management Effectiveness: Progress and Lessons in the Philippines” (by Aileen P. Maypa, Alan T. White, Elline Cañares, Raffy Martinez, Osorio, Porfirio Aliño and Dean Apistar), about 47 percent of MPAs in Central Visayas in 2008 could be described as being in fair condition for having 25 to 49 live hard coral cover.
Only 30 percent could be described as in good condition with live hard coral cover of 50 to 74 percent, while only six percent were in excellent condition with live hard coral cover of 75 to 100 percent.
The study identified the lack of a sustainable financial system, mismanagement, and lack of political and community support as common problems bugging MPAs.
Aliño, during the Environmental Law Talks 3, said creating a network of MPAs is more effective in restoring degraded marine ecosystems.
“MPA networks optimize the synergy connectivity among ecosystems at various scales,” he said. “They scale up benefits in biodiversity conservation, fisheries and tourism.”
MPA networks also benefit migratory species, he said.
He said that because an MPA network involves several LGUs, the costs of maintaining it are shared by participating towns or cities.
Oposa said education is key in getting communities to participate in protecting the sea and its resources. But he admitted that the process is a long one.
“It takes a long time to make people aware and longer time to make them act,” he said. (Tomorrow: Local governments’ hits and misses in addressing overfishing)
Fish in troubled waters (Last of three parts)
Town and bounty
What other LGUs can do to protect fish stocks in municipal waters, Bantayan does better
By Cherry Ann T. Lim
Sun.Star Cebu, June 7, 2014 Others Section, Page 10
IF MAN won’t set the limits on his forays into the sea, the sea itself will.
In Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, despite the risk of overfishing, no limits have been set on the volume of fish its fishermen may catch in its municipal waters, said Orlando Leyson, chairman of the city’s Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (FARMC).
The sea itself has set the limits for the residents.
“In some areas, the catch is not big enough for the fishermen, so they ask for (livelihood) assistance,” Leyson told Sun.Star Cebu.
He cited Olango Island, where many families live. “Their families are also big, with some having six to seven children,” he said.
With overfishing having a direct impact on the incomes and food security of their constituents, local government units (LGU) play a big role in ensuring the sustainable use of fishery resources.
Catching the catchers
The primary way LGUs protect fishery resources is to apprehend violators of Republic Act 8550 or The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and local ordinances.
Capitol Chief of Security Loy Madrigal, part of the Cebu Provincial Anti-Illegal Fishing Task Force, said the task force had made at least 26 apprehensions of both commercial and municipal fishermen since September with boat and truck inspections.
He said dynamite fishing usually occurred in Bantayan Island, Cordova town, Talisay City and Daanbantayan town. Dynamite fishing causes collateral damage to the marine environment, like corals and other marine species that are not the target of the fishing effort.
As for commercial fishermen, they have been caught in the Tañon Strait, which covers San Remigio town down to Toledo City in western Cebu; and the Visayan Sea, which covers the waters off northern Cebu.
Commercial fisherman are caught either fishing illegally in municipal waters (waters within 15 kilometers of a municipality’s shoreline reserved for local fishermen), or using illegal fishing methods, like active fishing gear in municipal waters and fine- meshed nets (with mesh size of less than three centimeters) that indiscriminately draw in both mature and juvenile fish.
Under RA 8550, the use of active fishing gear, which is “characterized by gear movement and/or the pursuit of the target species by towing, lifting, and pushing the gears, surrounding, covering, dredging, pumping and scaring the target species to impoundments, such as ... trawl, purse seines, Danish seines, bag nets, paaling, drift gill and tuna longline,” is not allowed in municipal waters and carries a fine of P2,000 to P20,000 for the vessel owner/operator and jail time of two to six years for the boat captain and master fisherman.
The use of fine-meshed nets, except for the gathering of fry, glass eels and other species that are small even when mature, carries the penalty of P2,000 to P20,000, or jail time of six months to two years, or both.
Madrigal said there is also a fine of P5,000 per kilo of fish caught illegally.
When apprehended, most violators just make bail, except those apprehended for dynamite fishing, which is non-bailable, he said.
On the second offense, Madrigal said a case would already be filed against the perpetrator. But they have still caught people up to the third offense.
“The penalties are prescribed by the Fisheries Code. But mohangyo sa gobernador. Usahay i-grant,” he said. (They seek consideration from the governor, who grants it at times.)
He said most perpetrators end up being meted a fine only. No one has been jailed yet after having been convicted.
Sought for comment, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III said: “All cases for violation of the Fisheries Code are referred to the Provincial Legal Office (PLO). It is then the PLO that adjudicates on the matter.”
In Lapu-Lapu City, FARMC chairman Leyson said two people were caught in Barangay Caubian last May 15 using dynamite. Their catch and unused dynamite were confiscated.
For their “actual use” of dynamite, he said, they will be convicted under RA 8550 and spend five to 10 years in jail. He said another two people, this time in Barangay Marigondon, were apprehended for the same offense last May 23 and face the same fate.
Without giving a specific figure, he said many violators had already been jailed.
“Daghan na. Ang nakasuway, di na gyud mo-usab.” (Many have gone to jail. Those who have been jailed don’t break the law again.)
Composed of fisherfolk organizations/cooperatives and non-government organizations (NGO) in the area and assisted by the LGU and other government entities, FARMCs are mandated by RA 8550 to help prepare the Municipal Fishery Development Plan, recommend the enactment of municipal fishery ordinances, and
help enforce fishery laws and regulations in municipal waters.
Leyson said the city also has a Task Force Kalikasan composed of five people
per barangay that the City pays P1,500/month to enforce environmental laws.
The task force reports violations to the council or the police, which takes care of
apprehending the violators, he said.
The City does not give alternative livelihood to fishermen who don’t earn enough from fishing.
“We just advise them to help protect the marine environment by not using cyanide or dynamite” and watching out for people who might destroy corals, Leyson said.
Corals provide small fish with food and shelter.
In some barangays, like Pangan-an, fishermen make fish cages and fish traps from materials provided by the barangay captain, so they can catch more fish in areas where there are lots of fish, he said.
To discourage illegal fishing, the FARMC encourages coastal barangays to apply for marine protected areas (MPA).
“Nine MPAs have been approved in the city,” the latest being that of Crimson Resort and Spa, which applied for MPA status for an eight-hectare area in front of its beach, he said.
MPA applicants sign a stewardship agreement with the City that nothing can be taken from the MPAs, including fish and corals.
Leyson said the city’s most successful sanctuary where one can see a variety of
big and small fish is the Talima Marine Sanctuary, formerly managed by the barangay but now taken over by the City, with the City and barangay sharing in the sanctuary’s revenues, such as the P50 entrance fee, P100 diving fee, and other fees for using underwater cameras and the like.
With MPAs, fishermen turn into guides of the divers. Some help the collectors, and they are paid the same as the City’s job-order employees, he said.
The LGU has registered some 600 fishermen, but Leyson said this may not even be half yet of the actual number of fishermen in the city.
“We need to go to the islets like Pangan-an, Caohagan and Caubian to get more of the fishermen there to register,” he said.
RA 8550 requires the LGU to maintain a registry of municipal fisherfolk to determine priorities, limit entry into municipal waters, and monitor fishing activities.
Fishing without a license, lease or permit is prohibited unless it is for one’s daily food sustenance or leisure only.
To register, Lapu-Lapu fishermen must present a barangay residence certificate and pay P20/year as fee, plus the fishing boat registration fee of P150/year if the boat is below one ton, P200/year if above a ton but less than two tons, and P250/year for two to less than three tons.
Leyson said many fishermen put off registering, saying they can’t afford it. But when they hear of apprehensions of unregistered fishermen, they quickly register.
With registration, if their boat is hit by another, they can collect payment from the offending party because their registration papers will prove their ownership of the
vessel, he said.
If someone steals their engine, which is not uncommon, they could also reclaim it
from the government if it is found, as engine numbers are listed during registration.
In Talisay City, Cebu, Greg dela Torre, head of the Fishermen Sea and Ecological Care (Fiseca), the city’s Bantay Dagat office, said the city has a similar problem with not even half of its fishermen registered.
Bantay Dagat is composed of deputized fishery wardens who go after illegal fishers at the local level.
But he said the fee of P50/year for a boat below 10 horsepower and P75/year if above 10 hp could not possibly be a hindrance to registration because “they can even afford the motorbanca.”
Fiseca uses a speedboat and a pumpboat to conduct patrols in three shifts, and a delineation map and GPS (Global Positioning System) to detect illegal fishers in its waters.
Talisay has problems with fishermen from Carcar City and San Fernando town fishing in its waters. Commercial fishermen from Bohol province and Mindanao have also reached Talisay, he said.
Under the city’s ordinance, the penalty of jail is meted only when the offender has violated the law for the third time, during which his boat and gear will also be confiscated.
This may be a reason why there are repeat offenders.
But he says that with the painful penalty for the third offense, most repeat offenders stop at the second offense.
In the Fisheries Code, “there is no first offense,” he admitted.
But he said the local ordinance made provisions for the first, second and third offense so the city could earn from the fines meted violators.
Like in Lapu-Lapu City, Talisay does not restrict the amount of fish that fishermen can catch in municipal waters, so long as they use legal methods to catch the fish.
However, it has designated a restricted area, the Lagundi Marine Sanctuary in Poblacion Talisay, where fishing is not allowed but where there are violators.
Last July, Fiseca personnel could not apprehend fishermen observed to be dynamite fishing in the sanctuary because their boats were not in working condition.
To prevent illegal fishing, Dela Torre said, there are plans to teach fishermen to use fish cages or fish pens (bungsod), but he said this would need a lot of members.
Fishermen also want to earn on the same day. But with a fish pen, they would still have to raise the fingerlings provided to them.
He said there already was a fish cage in front of the Fiseca headquarters in Barangay Cansojong operated by the city’s fisherfolk federation headed by Eda Cabusas.
Put up last year, it fell apart even before super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) came in November. It was restored after that storm.
With few livelihood alternatives for fishermen, it will be hard to prevent illegal fishing.
But in Bantayan town, one of the three towns on Bantayan Island (the others being Sta. Fe and Madridejos), the law is enforced with an iron will and a focus.
Full government support that has included addressing the root causes of illegal fishing has earned the town plaudits from Cebu’s environmental advocates, who cite it as a model for marine resource protection.
Asked its successful formula for thwarting overfishing, the first thing Marlon Marande, the town’s fishery technician and Bantay Dagat task force team leader, said was: “Dakop (Arrests).”
“Our target is to arrest the commercial fishermen who enter our municipal waters,” he said.
Since 2012, they have apprehended 32 commercial fishing boats, whose operators were from Cadiz City and Sagay City in Negros Occidental, and other parts of Bantayan Island. Some boats carried up to 40 banyera (tubs) of fish.
At the first offense, a case is immediately filed against violators.
The town throws the book at them, filing as many cases as possible for violating both RA 8550, which has harsher penalties because these involve jail terms, and the municipal ordinance, which prescribes fines and makes no allowance for a first offense.
“We file a lot of cases so we can raise money (from the fines) for our expenses,” he said.
He said the commercial fishermen they apprehended were millionaires, making their job dangerous. Powerful figures included the secretary of a Negros governor,
arrested just last May 26.
He said “no anomalies” occur during arrests. The Bantay Dagat team leader and
three pumpboat operators don’t accept bribes from violators.
“Hadlok mi sa among mayor. Isog kaayo. Isog siya sa magtinonto (We’re afraid of
our mayor. He is fierce and doesn’t tolerate wrongdoing),” he said.
The Bantay Dagat normally conducts patrols using two pumpboats. But with both
under repair, it is now using the municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s pumpboat.
Many commercial fishermen enter Bantayan’s territorial waters because the area teems with fish owing to its marine sanctuaries.
Of the town’s 20 coastal barangays, 17 have marine sanctuaries. Each sanctuary occupies 20 hectares.
Marande said the town provides support—15 liters of gasoline a month to each barangay, so it can patrol its own sanctuary.
“We also give materials, like rope, nylon and buoys for marking the boundaries of the sanctuary, so fishermen know where not to enter,” he said.
The fine for fishing in the sanctuary is P200 to P500, depending on the barangay ordinance.
He said Bantayan Mayor Ian Christopher Escario also gives marine project assistance of P50,000/year, which can be used for maintaining the barangay sanctuary and patrol boat or making a floating guardhouse.
In the Tañon Strait, four barangays integrated their areas into one sanctuary. The
177-hectare sanctuary, Bsita Isla, gets assistance of P500,000/year. Visitors can swim and dive there for a fee.
Since the 1990s, livelihood projects by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Bfar) have also enabled residents to earn from growing high-value fish species like grouper, red snapper and sweet lips in fish cages. These are supplied live to restaurants in Cebu and Lapu-Lapu City.
“Bantayan is also the biggest producer of seaweed in Cebu,” Marande said. “It supplies Shemberg,” a leading producer and supplier of refined carrageenan in the world.
Bantayan has 800 hectares of seaweed farms, begun also in the 1990s, but by the residents themselves, he said. Today, 1,400 fisherman-planters grow seaweed in five islets.
“Before, Bantayan was known for illegal fishing and dynamite fishing, but now no more. It’s because of seaweed,” he said.
After typhoon Yolanda wiped out the farms, the Bfar provided seedlings. NGOs and other sponsors helped, and operations are now back to normal.
Bfar has also had a mangrove project in the town since 2012. It pays residents P6 per seedling planted, 80 percent of which is released on planting and the balance after the mangroves have grown.
Five barangays have mangrove areas. They survived Yolanda’s fury. Mangroves and seaweeds serve as nurseries and feeding grounds for fish and crustaceans.
Even in registration, the town tries its best.
“Bantayan Island is number one in the online registration of fishermen with the Bfar for the province of Cebu,” Marande said.
In May 2013, the Bfar had launched its National Program for Municipal Fisherfolk Registration to help speed up the registration of municipal fisherfolk by LGUs. The program aimed to serve fishermen better by giving them medical and health insurance.
Before Yolanda, he admitted that few registered.
“But after Yolanda, when they saw that those who had registered received pumpboats, fishing gear, and accident and boat insurance from Bfar, the number of registrants tripled,” Marande said.
Aside from the mayor’s support, he credits the town’s success in marine resource protection to the bravery of the Bantay Dagat crew, who are job-order employees, and the hard work of the Philippine National Police and the local FARMC led by chairman Louie Revamonte.
“We love our job,” he said. “We can help the local fishermen, who are the most pitiful because they can no longer catch any fish if the commercial fishermen can get in.”
Where the poor are
Among the basic sectors, fishermen had the highest poverty incidence of 41.4 percent in 2009, way above the 26.5 percent poverty incidence for the whole country, said Dr. Jose Ramon Albert, Philippine Statistics Authority-National Statistical Coordination Board secretary general.
They received the country’s third lowest average daily basic wage of P178.43 in
2011, after domestic helpers’ P138.99 and farmers’ P156.81.
And despite Central Visayas being surrounded by seven major marine aquatic
ecosystems, including the Visayan Sea, Bohol Sea and East Sulu Sea, the region had the country’s fourth highest poverty incidence for fishermen at 48 percent in 2009, after Caraga’s 59.2 percent, Northern Mindanao’s 51.5 percent and Zamboanga Peninsula’s 48.2 percent.
To halve the proportion of people in extreme poverty from 1990 to 2015 to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the Philippines will have to look into the plight of fishermen, which means looking into the plight of the seas from which they derive their living.
To save the seas from overexploitation, consumers can also do their part. They can refuse to buy juveniles, fish roe (bihod), endangered species, and dynamited fish apparent, Bfar says, from their damaged fins, lack of scales, bulging and reddish eyes, and skin blood clots.
Ensuring that the ocean’s bounty will be there for years to come will hinge on giving the fish a break.