The Visayan Sea

MANILA -- An international ocean conservation and advocacy organization has called on the government to issue guidelines to protect the country’s major fishing grounds, to curb overfishing and illegal fishing activities in municipal waters and ensure the livelihood of small fishers.

“The policy, as among those provided for under the amended Fisheries Code, pertains to the designation of Fisheries Management Areas, or FMAs, in the country. It is envisioned that a comprehensive science-based fisheries management plan will be enforced on these areas to ensure sustained productivity and protect them from overfishing, illegal fishing, and destructive fishing practices that destroy critical marine habitats,” said Gloria Estenzo Ramos, environment lawyer and vice president of Oceana Philippines.

She added that the designation of FMAs is needed to rebuild and restore the abundance of the country’s fishing grounds, two-thirds of which are considered "overfished."

“Our fishing grounds are in dire need of compelling interventions, with the continued encroachment of commercial fishers in municipal waters and the lack of effective management by local authorities, except, of course, for some local champions, who are showing the way to effectively manage their municipal waters, which have tremendously benefited their constituents,” Ramos said.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government recently issued a memorandum circular for coastal local government units to regulate and monitor fishery activities in their municipal waters.

It likewise rolled out nationwide a scorecard for local government units (LGUs) to fill up, as a self-validating transparency and monitoring tool in assessing its compliance with the amended Fisheries Code.

Ramos added that consultations led by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources have been conducted since last year, to craft the rules on fisheries management areas for major fishing grounds.

“There is already a draft Fisheries Administrative Order on the designation of around 15 FMAs in the country and outlining the management plan for these FMAs. These rules are urgently needed now, especially in the Visayan Sea, which is a major fisheries area for sardines, blue swimming crabs, and squid, producing around 2 million kilos of wildish annually, and providing half a million municipal and commercial fishers with livelihood,” she said.
The Visayan Sea directly benefits 100,000 municipal fishermen and about 1 million rural folks in 33 municipalities in the provinces of Cebu, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Masbate, and Capiz.

BFAR studies showed a steady decline in seafood supply in the Visayan Sea since the 1980s, due mostly to the prevalence of blast fishing, plus the encroachment of trawls, Danish seines, and other destructive gears in municipal waters. (PR)