FISH RIGHT PROGRAM. US Embassy Chief of Mission John Law reassures the commitment of the United States government to work with the Philippine government in promoting sustainable fisheries management and ocean conservation during the launching of the Fish Right program held in Iloilo City on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Photo by Pearl G. Lena)

ILOILO CITY – A partnership program between the United States and Philippine governments to promote sustainable fisheries in the county was launched in this city on Tuesday (Nov. 20).

The USD25-million Fish Right program will be implemented over a period of five years by the University of Rhode Island in collaboration with six implementing partners in the Philippines in three program sites namely Visayan Sea, Calamianes Island Group and the South Negros.

The launching was attended by US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission John Law, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Mission Director Patrick Wesner, University of Rhode Island President Dr. David M. Dooley, Agriculture Undersecretary Eduardo B. Gongona, Senator Cynthia Villar, Iloilo Provincial Administrator Raul Banias, Iloilo City Mayor Jose Espinosa III and Nygiel B. Armada, Fish Right Program Chief of Party.

Law, in his message, said the program has the potential to be “extra ordinarily life changing for so many people”.

“The coastal and marine biodiversity in the Philippines is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the country. (It) is one of the most important fishing countries in the world; so many Filipinos make their livelihood based on fishing,” he noted.

Law added that 60 percent of the Philippines' population lives within or around coastal areas, so they depend on coastal resources for their livelihood.

He said that since the 1990s, the US government through the USAID has been supportive of the efforts of the Philippine government to “conserve its marine and bio-diversity resources”.

He announced that recently, USAID concluded its eco-fish program together with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and local government units. It has increased the number and weight of fish resources by 24 percent in areas where it was implemented.

“We think that building on that partnership, Fish Right can be even more successful. United States has committed to working with the Philippine people, to working with the Philippine government, and supporting BFAR’s leadership in sustainable fisheries management and ocean conservation. Fish Right is another concrete example of that commitment and that cooperation,” he added.

Senator Cynthia Villar, in her message, also underscored that “protection of marine biodiversity is particularly crucial for a top fishing country such as the Philippines. However, destructive fishing and illegal fishing activities are some of the threats to their sustainability".

“So, USAID Fish Right Program’s aim to promote sustainable fisheries is very timely too,” Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Undersecretary Gongona expressed optimism that the program will boost the government’s campaign to “rehabilitate marine habitats as well as strengthen stakeholders’ participation”.

He cited that one of the challenges facing the fishery sector is the “habitat degradation due to destructive and unsustainable fishing practices and harmful effects of climate change”.

“With 82 million Filipinos relying on fish for protein, there is a need to augment current efforts to maintain our fish sufficiency,” Gongona said. The country is now 92 percent fish-sufficient and closing the gap can be done by “improving the fish biomass of the municipal waters”.

The project will focus on ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM) to promote the sustainable use and resilience of critical coastal and marine resources and institutionalize capacity building initiatives for sustainable fishing, Law said.

At the end of the five-year program in 2023, Fish Right hopes to achieve at least a 10-percent increase in fish biomass and reduce threats to marine biodiversity in the three identified sites by employing six strategic approaches.

These are: increased management effectiveness of fisheries and coastal resources; strengthened institutional capacity and accountability; improved policy environment; enhanced participation and leadership of resource users and stakeholders; developed capacities to mainstream resilience and ecosystem-based fisheries management and enhanced partnerships and research and development support.

“Fish Right project begins here in this key coastal and marine biodiversity areas,” Law said. (PNA)