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Stronger law enforcement key to boosting fish production, says fisheries bureau

MANILA — The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is pushing for stronger enforcement measures to achieve sustainable fisheries and seafood self-sufficiency in the country.

“We have to maintain and protect our traditional fishing grounds. If we properly enforce our fisheries law, we will have enough fish. We need action, and we need to do it now,” the bureau’s national director, Eduardo Gongona, told reporters in a recent press conference in Quezon City.

MB FILE - Workers from the BFAR-NIFTDC harvest experimental milkfish (bangus) in Sual, Pangasinan.  (Jojo Rinoza) / MB.COM.PH

MB FILE – Workers from the BFAR-NIFTDC harvest experimental milkfish (bangus) in Sual, Pangasinan. (Jojo Rinoza) / MB.COM.PH

Gongona pointed to the lack of enforcement as one of the reasons why illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing prevails, worsening the damage to the Philippines’ rich but vastly threatened marine resources.

Lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines estimated that 56 percent of the Filipinos’ animal protein comes from fish, and 93 percent of fish caught in the country are consumed domestically.

Fishing is not only a vital source of food, but also provides livelihood for millions of Filipinos, she said, adding that for a country that is dependent on the seas for sustenance and livelihood, “we certainly need to be more vigilant in protecting our marine resources”.

The Philippines ranks 11th in the world as a source of seafood caught in the wild. However, destructive fishing practices, such as blast fishing, bottom trawl, and modified Danish seine, and the illegal exploitation of commercial fishers in municipal waters, have led to the rapid decline of fish supply. According to BFAR and marine scientists, 10 out of 13 of the country’s major fishing grounds are already overfished.

“Strengthened law enforcement, with sustainable fisheries management, also protects the spawning ground of fish. If our fisheries will be given time and protection to recover, it would ensure seafood security and result in increased incomes for marginalized fisherfolk, who are the country’s poorest of the poor, and our coastal residents whose lives, income and culture are tied to our oceans,” Ramos said.

Ramos cited that the recent apprehension of two fishing boats at the Tañon Strait off Negros and Cebu islands, containing 19 thresher sharks and 70 buckets of fish believed to have been caught using dynamite, is a strong indication of strengthened enforcement to deter illegal fishing in Tañon Strait, the country’s largest marine protected area.

She said they expect a case to be filed soon against the owners and the crew of the vessels.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora has voted for the listing of the thresher sharks in Appendix II, controlling their trade to ensure their survival.

BFAR is also set to donate two 30-ft. fiberglass boats for patrolling Tañon Strait.

Ramos emphasized the need for concerned agencies to continue to coordinate in enforcing fisheries and environmental laws, and in apprehending poachers “to restore fisheries abundance, and ensure the protection and conservation of our fisheries and natural resources and the livelihoods of our people”.