IN A bid to address the pressing crisis in the local fishery industry, various sectors in Negros Island are forming a partnership that will push for the concept of right fishing especially in the key biodiversity area of Bayawan, Negros Oriental.
This multi-sectoral partnership will banner the Fish Right (FR) program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and the Philippine’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources along with a consortium of partners, mainly to develop southern Negros seas and boost support for fishing communities there.
USAid FR for Southern Negros Principal Investigator Ben Malayan, who spoke at the executive briefing of the program at Hotel Maefinne in Bayawan City, on Tuesday, January 29, said the whole idea of right fishing is prompted by the recognition of the government that “we need to do something with how we fish not just why we fish.”
Malayan said this makes a fishing scale to be sensitive to the limitations of the ability of the fish to replenish themselves.
“The main intention of the program is to save biodiversity and reverse the trends towards declining fisheries,” he said, stressing that what the partnership would want to address is the overall situation not just on a specific area where biodiversity and fishery are dwindling.
Malayan said, “so where the fishery is still very healthy, we would like to make sure that it continues to be healthy, in fact, healthier. But where the fisheries are already getting poorer, we’d like to change the trajectory of the situation back to becoming better.”
Based on the project brief, local fishery crisis is attributed to declining fish catch because of dwindling fish stocks, rising prices of fish products, and fewer people especially the poor are able to afford fish and able to acquire good income from fisheries.
In order to address these conditions, the program introduces ways to improve fish-based food and protein security through an ecosystem approach to fisheries management including “right-sizing” when catching fish.
“Right-sizing” can be achieved through better policies, better management, more alternative income opportunities for fishers and traders, better education and public awareness on fishery issues and opportunities, and stronger citizens’ push and pressure for better fisheries.
The strategies are also geared towards improving the fishers’ income, boost gender equity in the fishery sector, and strengthen the ability of fishery ecosystem to withstand shocks from typhoons and El Niño and La Niña.
The FR program also aims to achieve an average of 10 percent fish biomass in selected marine key biodiversity area, on top of enhancing sustainability by building partners capability, it added.
Other strategies included mangrove restoration, improve the policy environment for resilient and ecosystem-based fisheries, develop resilience capacities of coastal communities and stakeholders, and enhance partnerships for research and development support, among others.
The southern Negros forms part of the three areas in the country where the FR program exists. The other two are the Visayan Sea and Camanlanes Island Groups in Palawan.
It covers those identified as South Negros Marine Key Biodiversity Area encompassing the municipal waters from Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental to Cauayan town in Negros Occidental, or a total of 11 localities in the island.
The Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry earlier recognized the potential of southern Negros seas as a source of high-value fish products like tuna.
In fact, the business group said given such abundant resources, there is an opportunity for the establishment of high paying industries.
Malayan said the program for southern Negros will also look at not only the fish but the fishers also.
He said there is also a need to see the different variables and pressures on those fishers including price and regulatory pressures.
“It will be an ecosystem approach because we look at both fish and fishers, and the institutional configurations that provide the dynamics between the fishers and the fish,” Malayan added.
Consortium of partners
The FR for Southern Negros also comprises a consortium of partners including fishers, traders, concerned government agencies, private sector like business chambers and cooperatives, civil society organizations like schools and media, and local government units (LGUs).
Under the program, USAid mainly provides technical needs while that of the academe is more on the researches, training, and evaluation of the technology.
Malayan said the business sector, through various chambers, will work on developing ideas towards providing more value adding to the fisheries, reducing wastage, then probably developing an alternative to fishing as an option for livelihood.
Malayan said the LGUs, on the other hand, will be the one to lead in improving the positive policy environment for fishing because without it fishers don’t know how to behave properly to sustain their fisheries.
“We want to ensure that there is an improvement on local regulation on fishing, which is driven by realities of fishing off the ground in southern Negros,” he said, adding that “the partners should have a common understanding of what needs to be done, and finally what will we do together.”
The executive briefing is part of the team’s effort to build a coalition of partners.
Also in this month, the partnership lab will conduct media campaigns and science assessments on fishery situation and issues to be followed by the public launching of the program.
The two governors of the Negros provinces are expected to sign a covenant of commitment in the middle of February, along with the signing of partnership agreements by other partners.
In terms of economic impact, Malayan said the Philippines has 220 million hectares of seas including its extended economic zones which spells a lot of economic potentials.
There are a lot more opportunities in the water than in the land “but we have not yet given too much emphasis on what the seas can give us,” Malayan said.
“The Philippines is among the among the top 10 marine-capture fisheries countries in the world,” he said, adding that the irony, however, is “we have a lot but we are getting short.”
This is because “where we are utilizing our fisheries are also where there is overfishing.”
He reported that fisheries contribute to around seven percent of the country's gross domestic product, employing about 2.2 million people.
The country is capturing almost two million metric tons of fish a year, with about 100 species.
Commitment, looking forward
Moreover, Bayawan Mayor Henry Pryde Teves, who was present at the briefing, said the local government has been working with USAid which helped them benchmarked with their tuna harvest.
Teves said though the locality is not gifted with the natural port, they are trying their best to create a port for themselves so they can do value-adding.
As he expressed commitment to support the FR program, the mayor said the city has done massive freshwater and cultured-fish program amid the dwindling fishery stocks.
“For this year, we are going into crab reading for our farmers to have no reason why they have to continue getting these crablets from the natural environment,” he added.
The local business chambers, for their part, have expressed optimism that the program targets will be achieved through strong collaboration.
Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Frank Carbon said the briefing reinforces their belief that such program is really needed not only in southern Negros but also in the northern part which has huge potential in terms of blue swimming crabs.
Carbon said this is a billion industry providing livelihood and employment opportunities for Negrenses thus, they are looking forward to also develop the northern Negros seas.
“From the canning to domestic and export markets, I think we do not have a problem. Our problem is going down - from picking to production, we don't have an integrated program yet to ensure that dwindling will stop,” he added.
Meanwhile, other participants of the briefing were officials of Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry led by president Francel Martinez, representatives of different LGUs as well as of other agencies like the Philippine Coast Guard.