Editorial: Save our seas

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

FISH or fishes? Which form is proper to use confounds writers who want to stay on the right side of grammar.

But this perplexity extends now to the real world, with everyone from scientists to housewives expressing concern about the diminishing bounties of the sea.

According to a three-part special report series, “Fish in troubled waters,” published by Sun.Star Cebu last June 5-7, overexploitation of the Visayan Sea makes living even more precarious for fishing families as well as households dependent on fish as a cheap source of animal protein.


Timed for World Oceans Day on June 8, the special report series focused on the challenges confronting the community in preventing overfishing and promoting the sustainable use of marine resources.

Not bottomless

Visayans take for granted the rich marine life in the islands, feasting on a variety of fresh fish at prices unheard of in Luzon.

Yet, since 2001, the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic
Resources (Bfar) has warned that the Visayan Sea no longer has enough for everyone, reported Liberty A. Pinili and Cherry Ann T. Lim in “Visayan Sea mayday,” published last June 5.

Overfishing, or exceeding the sustainable exploration ratio of 50 percent, is due to commercial fishing, where the gears used violate catch ceilings set by Republic Act 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.

The charge is countered by the Northern Cebu Commercial Fishing Operators Association (NCCFOA), which supplies 80 percent of the fish in Cebu Province. An official blamed the depletion of fish stocks on climate change. Commercial fishing is claimed as also lifting fishermen’s incomes.

Juggling act

Fish scarcity is only an aspect of the marine dilemma. “Overfishing in the Visayan Sea is a complicated issue that cannot be addressed by a single solution,” reported Pinili in “Paper caper, harmful farm” last June 6.

Municipal governments and the Bfar must cooperate to enforce stricter licensing of commercial fishing operations and registration of fisherfolk, as well as provide viable livelihood opportunities, such as fish processing, seaweed farming, aquaculture
and land-based options.

While it helps to maintain fish supply, the aquaculture industry was developed at the expense of mangroves. Fishponds require considerable investment, which is beyond the means of small-time fishermen.

To meet both livelihood and ecological priorities requires creative solutions. The Panaghugpong sa Day-asanong Mananagat (Padama) in Cordova built a fish cage a kilometer from the shore and, while waiting for the fingerlings to hatch, earns income for members from organizing tours to the fish cage and nearby areas.

Better enforcement of laws means better protection of municipal waters. Education also plays a role in making people and local partners cooperate to manage their resources, especially marine protected areas (MPAs).

Policing the waters

Local governments lead in enforcing RA 8550. The stake is shared by the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils (FARMCs), which bring together people’s organizations (POs) and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in upholding RA 8550, reported Lim in the final part of the special report published on June 7, “Town and bounty.”

The FARMC educates communities and mobilizes local support for MPAs, which protect marine resources and generate income for members from users’ fees. Lapu-Lapu and Talisay lessons emphasize meeting the need of fishermen to earn in a day to meet their family’s needs.

In Bantayan, cited by environmentalists as a model of marine resource protection, stakeholders—from the mayor to the Bantay Dagat, Philippine National Police and FARMC—strictly enforce the law by arresting and filing cases against violators, making no exceptions for rich and influential transgressors.

Being the largest commercial producer of seaweed and high-value fish species sold to restaurants in Cebu City has helped Bantayan erase its past notoriety in dynamite and illegal fishing. A Bfar mangrove project enables participants to earn money from planting and maintaining seedlings.

The town also leads in registering and monitoring fishermen, who receive medical and health aid. After seeing that registered fishermen received post-Yolanda grants in boats and fishing implements, registration tripled.

Though gargantuan, the task of rehabilitating the seas requires all hands on deck. Eliminating coastal poverty and sustaining healthy, affordable diets rest on improving the state of the seas.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 09, 2014.


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