MY grandfather on my mother’s side, Santiago Batulan, was a fisher. When his wife died delivering twin babies (both were born dead), he left my mother, Milagros, to the care of an aunt, “Mama Isang.”

We barely knew our grandfather until he was old and sick and came to Cebu. My family attended to him as his health deteriorated. On hindsight, I would not blame my grandfather for abandoning my mother, as he left for Mindanao where he raised a new family and continued to do what he did best: fishing.

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It was therefore no coincidence that I married Debbie, whose father Hilarion Chua spent a big part of his life as a fisher in Pagadian until a tsunami hit that place in the ‘70s. Debbie said that when she was 13 years old, she accompanied her father on a long fishing expedition that brought her to a city filled with lights—-Cebu--not knowing that in later years she would study, work and marry there.

It is not surprising that in the Philippines, which is surrounded by seas, many families have direct or indirect connection to fishers. Total fish production in the country in 1989 was 2.3 million tons, 46 percent of them caught by 574,000 municipal and subsistence fishers and 27 percent caught by 45,000 commercial fishermen. The balance was from the aquaculture industry.

“Philippine Coral Reef Fisheries: Challenges and Frustrations,” a paper authored by Dr. Porfirio Aliño of UP Diliman, noted that 70 percent of Filipinos’ protein intake comes from fish.

The causes of the decline in fish resources are “overexploitation, destructive fishing and other human-related impacts such as coastal development and sedimentation.”

Coral reefs, one of the most important elements in the marine ecosystem, have been under threat due to illegal fishing with dynamite and cyanide, as well as the muro-ami fishing technique, exposed in a commercial movie a decade ago.

Pollution from industrial and agricultural wastes further contributed to the deterioration of our seas.

Two nights ago, I watched this feature in the New Zealand weekly TV series, “60 Minutes,” about the causes of the decline of the whale population. New Zealand was once a commercial whaling nation with 100 whaling stations taking right whales and humpbacks.

With the crash in humpback stocks in the ‘60s and the sudden drop in world whale oil prices in 1964, commercial whaling stopped. Since then, New Zealand has been against whaling, and its most rabid activists fight off Japanese whaling ships that annually hunt for whales for “scientific studies.”

But while the Japanese may have contributed to the decline in whale population because of their love for sushi, everyone else is guilty as well. Scientists dissected dead whales stranded in the shores of Nortland in New Zealand and found out that they died because of starvation.

The stomach of the dead mammals had ulcer holes. The resource persons, experts in their fields, said that the whales must have travelled far from their usual sanctuaries because commercial fishers robbed them of their food.

As human population continues to grow, harvesting of fish in the ocean will continue. With fewer fish within the short distances from land, commercial fishers will go deeper into the oceans.

Among Aliño’s recommendation to address “the survival of future Generations’ heritage and our life support system” are: explore innovative ways of regulating fishing effort and more effective ways of enforcement and compliance; explore incentives for livelihood linked to sustainable resource management and disincentives for unsustainable practices; and improve effectiveness of enhancement and rehabilitation measures through an ecosystem and integrated management approach.

Governments must keep the balance in the marine ecosystem as they address other aspects of the environmental state of the earth. Take care of the fishes, take care of the seas, yes, take care of the fishers.