Oceana urges Marcos administration to stop fish importation, urgently implement sustainable and science-based plans in Fisheries Management Areas and hold accountable illegal fishers in municipal waters
International advocacy organization Oceana gives unsolicited advice to the Marcos administration -- stop fish importation, prosecute commercial fishers encroaching municipal waters and exact implementation of the management plan for participatory and science-based fisheries management in Fisheries Management Areas (FMAs), a policy reform under FAO 263 which delineated the country’s fisheries into 12 areas and which if fully implemented will rebuild our fisheries. “We are already feeling the pinch of the global crisis on food including fish. The country’s marine resources should be prioritized as an integral source of nutrition for the Filipino people, but these continue to degrade because of lack of political will to fully implement the fisheries laws and the reforms initiated by the decision-makers. While the FMAs now have the 12 Management Boards and the corresponding Scientific Advisory Groups, management plans are needed to effectively restore our fishing ground and ensure that our artisanal fisherfolk have ample assistance for their livelihood, post-harvest facilities and perhaps fuel and food subsidies to improve their income and their families’ well-being,” urged Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President. Ramos cites the State of the Nation Address of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., indicating plans to institutionalize support to fisherfolk. “Being the sitting Department of Agriculture Secretary, his team will hopefully focus on the restoration of our fisheries and marine resources through the strict implementation of the Fisheries Code, as amended which mandates the protection of the 15-kilometer municipal waters from commercial fishing operations. The able and competent leadership in the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) working hand in hand with the stakeholders including local authorities and artisanal fisherfolk is necessary to ensure that our marginalized fisherfolk and coastal communities are taken care of,” Ramos added. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) Fisheries Situation Report noted a 13.5% reduction in the volume of production of fimbriated sardines (tunsoy), one of the major species with reported declines for the first quarter of 2022.
Oceana is closely working with various stakeholders for the immediate implementation of the National Sardine Management Plan in all FMAs, as directed by former Agriculture Secretary William Dar to the Director and regional officers of the BFAR. The FMA 7 Management Board was the first to approve the reference points and harvest control rules for integration into the National Sardine Management Plan. Local mayors are establishing and strengthening their alliances to protect their municipal waters from intrusion by commercial fishing operators and other threats to the livelihoods of their constituents. To help restore our fish stocks, the environmental group is also calling for the full compliance of the law through the installation of vessel monitoring devices in all registered and qualified commercial fishing vessels to augment monitoring, control and surveillance efforts of local government units (LGUs) and enforcement agencies tasked to protect the preferential rights of artisanal fisherfolk over the use of municipal waters. The municipal water hosts the coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves – the shelter and spawning ground of fish that should be protected as mandated by the existing fisheries and environmental laws. The PSA also reported a decline in all captured fisheries for the first quarter of 2022. From 973,622.41 metric tons (MT) a year ago, fisheries production volume in both commercial and municipal fisheries dipped to 971,500.80 MT from January to March this year. The government attributed this to rising fuel costs and has also contributed to its push for fish importation. However, Dr. Wilfredo Campos from the University of the Philippines Visayas emphasized that compounding challenges have hounded the country’s fisheries sector for years, including overfishing, which is made worse by persistent illegal commercial fishing activities in municipal waters. “The only data we can ’examine’ to determine this is the PSA data. While using this data for fisheries management is questionable to many, there is no other data on a national scale available for use. Having said this, we used the PSA capture fisheries annual production estimates from 2010 to 2021, showing a continuous decrease in annual production over a 10-year period. This is the longest period in the history of PH capture fisheries since 1950 showing a continuous decline in values. The second longest period was about 5 years in the 1980s,” said Campos. Campos explained that the data show an average decrease of 49,449 metric tons each year, and that from 2011 until 2020, Philippine fisheries production lost more than 494,490 MT of fish over this 10-year period – a real decrease in capture fisheries production. Campos’ interpretation of this continuous 10-year decline – based on several previous studies – is not that stock abundance declined only since 2010; it began declining in the 1980s to 1990s. “The decline from 2010 is a manifestation that stocks have breached their threshold in productive capacity. An analogy would be stretching a rubber band until it breaks. One can stretch it out seemingly a lot and keeping it stretched out long enough will cause it to break -- similar to overfishing stocks for decades. While they are naturally resilient, their productivity eventually breaks down after decades of overfishing,” Campos added. The government has allowed the importation of 60,000 metric tons of fish, but Oceana Vice President Ramos said that it should have instead enhanced the protection of municipal waters, home to coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves – the shelter and spawning ground of fish, from the illegal entry of commercial fishing vessels that catch small and juvenile fish stocks and full implementation of vessel monitoring rules to track and identify the owner and location of commercial fishing vessels. Oceana and other fisheries experts, including the testimonies of artisanal fisherfolk, point to this failure in enforcement and implementation of vessel monitoring measures as among the causes of the decline of fish stocks. “Importing fish for local consumption is not only a temporary solution but has compounded effects on local markets, competitiveness of Filipino fisherfolk when it comes to selling their catch as well as on the long-term sustainability of our fisheries. We need better and firm management of fisheries and to follow protocols in allowing importation,” the Oceana leader urged. Ramos explained that Philippine fisheries continue to deteriorate due to insufficient management and protection. “We hope that the government will heed the artisanal fisherfolks and other stakeholders’ call and roll out management plans that have their participation because the families of poor artisanal fisherfolk are facing an even more grim situation than their current state. Most of them have not been able to ply their fishing boats due to spiraling increase in fuel cost. Their families, especially their children who need to eat and have access to their other basic necessities cannot wait forever. Time is of the essence when it comes to ensuring that the country has sufficient resources to feed its people amid these trying times. Our fisheries can provide us with the food we need if we only prioritize its management,” 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 governmentagencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.