IF MAN won’t set the limits on his forays into the sea, the sea itself will.
In Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, despite the risk of overfishing, no limits have been set on the volume of fish its fishermen may catch in its municipal waters, said Orlando Leyson, chairman of the city’s Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (FARMC).
The sea itself has set the limits for the residents.
“In some areas, the catch is not big enough for the fishermen, so they ask for (livelihood) assistance,” Leyson told Sun.Star Cebu.
He cited Olango Island, where many families live. “Their families are also big, with some having six to seven children,” he said.
With overfishing having a direct impact on the incomes and food security of their constituents, local government units (LGU) play a big role in ensuring the sustainable use of fishery resources.
Catching the catchers
The primary way LGUs protect fishery resources is to apprehend violators of Republic Act 8550 or The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and local ordinances.
Capitol Chief of Security Loy Madrigal, part of the Cebu Provincial Anti-Illegal Fishing Task Force, said the task force had made at least 26 apprehensions of both commercial and municipal fishermen since September with boat and truck inspections.
He said dynamite fishing usually occurred in Bantayan Island, Cordova town, Talisay City and Daanbantayan town. Dynamite fishing causes collateral damage to the marine environment, like corals and other marine species that are not the target of the fishing effort.
As for commercial fishermen, they have been caught in the Tañon Strait, which covers San Remigio town down to Toledo City in western Cebu; and the Visayan Sea, which covers the waters off northern Cebu.
Commercial fisherman are caught either fishing illegally in municipal waters (waters within 15 kilometers of a municipality’s shoreline reserved for local fishermen), or using illegal fishing methods, like active fishing gear in municipal waters and fine-meshed nets (with mesh size of less than three centimeters) that indiscriminately draw in both mature and juvenile fish.
Under RA 8550, the use of active fishing gear, which is “characterized by gear movement and/or the pursuit of the target species by towing, lifting, and pushing the gears, surrounding, covering, dredging, pumping and scaring the target species to impoundments, such as … trawl, purse seines, Danish seines, bag nets, paaling, drift gill and tuna longline,” is not allowed in municipal waters and carries a fine of P2,000 to P20,000 for the vessel owner/operator and jail time of two to six years for the boat captain and master fisherman.
The use of fine-meshed nets, except for the gathering of fry, glass eels and other species that are small even when mature, carries the penalty of P2,000 to P20,000, or jail time of six months to two years, or both.
Madrigal said there is also a fine of P5,000 per kilo of fish caught illegally.
When apprehended, most violators just make bail, except those apprehended for dynamite fishing, which is non-bailable, he said.
On the second offense, Madrigal said a case would already be filed against the perpetrator. But they have still caught people up to the third offense.
“The penalties are prescribed by the Fisheries Code. But mohangyo sa gobernador.
Usahay i-grant,” he said. (They seek consideration from the governor, who grants it at times.)
He said most perpetrators end up being meted a fine only. No one has been jailed yet
after having been convicted.
Sought for comment, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III said: “All cases for violation of the Fisheries Code are referred to the Provincial Legal Office (PLO). It is then the PLO that adjudicates on the matter.”
In Lapu-Lapu City, FARMC chairman Leyson said two people were caught in Barangay Caubian last May 15 using dynamite. Their catch and unused dynamite were confiscated.
For their “actual use” of dynamite, he said, they will be convicted under RA 8550 and spend five to 10 years in jail. He said another two people, this time in Barangay Marigondon, were apprehended for the same offense last May 23 and face the same fate.
Without giving a specific figure, he said many violators had already been jailed.
“Daghan na. Ang nakasuway, di na gyud mo-usab.” (Many have gone to jail. Those who have been jailed don’t break the law again.)
Composed of fisherfolk organizations/cooperatives and non-government organizations (NGO) in the area and assisted by the LGU and other government entities, FARMCs are mandated by RA 8550 to help prepare the Municipal Fishery Development Plan, recommend the enactment of municipal fishery ordinances, and help enforce fishery laws and regulations in municipal waters.
Leyson said the city also has a Task Force Kalikasan composed of five people per barangay that the City pays P1,500/month to enforce environmental laws.
The task force reports violations to the council or the police, which takes care of apprehending the violators, he said.
The City does not give alternative livelihood to fishermen who don’t earn enough from fishing.
“We just advise them to help protect the marine environment by not using cyanide or dynamite” and watching out for people who might destroy corals, Leyson said.
Corals provide small fish with food and shelter.
In some barangays, like Pangan-an, fishermen make fish cages and fish traps from materials provided by the barangay captain, so they can catch more fish in areas where there are lots of fish, he said.
To discourage illegal fishing, the FARMC encourages coastal barangays to apply for marine protected areas (MPA).
“Nine MPAs have been approved in the city,” the latest being that of Crimson Resort and Spa, which applied for MPA status for an eight-hectare area in front of its beach, he said.
MPA applicants sign a stewardship agreement with the City that nothing can be taken from the MPAs, including fish and corals.
Leyson said the city’s most successful sanctuary where one can see a variety of big and small fish is the Talima Marine Sanctuary, formerly managed by the barangay but now taken over by the City, with the City and barangay sharing in the sanctuary’s revenues, such as the P50 entrance fee, P100 diving fee, and other fees for using underwater cameras and the like.
With MPAs, fishermen turn into guides of the divers. Some help the collectors, and they are paid the same as the City’s job-order employees, he said.
The LGU has registered some 600 fishermen, but Leyson said this may not even be half yet of the actual number of fishermen in the city.
“We need to go to the islets like Pangan-an, Caohagan and Caubian to get more of the fishermen there to register,” he said.
RA 8550 requires the LGU to maintain a registry of municipal fisherfolk to determine priorities, limit entry into municipal waters, and monitor fishing activities.
Fishing without a license, lease or permit is prohibited unless it is for one’s daily food sustenance or leisure only.
To register, Lapu-Lapu fishermen must present a barangay residence certificate and pay P20/year as fee, plus the fishing boat registration fee of P150/year if the boat is below one ton, P200/year if above a ton but less than two tons, and P250/year for two to less than three tons.
Leyson said many fishermen put off registering, saying they can’t afford it. But when they hear of apprehensions of unregistered fishermen, they quickly register.
With registration, if their boat is hit by another, they can collect payment from the offending party because their registration papers will prove their ownership of the vessel, he said.
If someone steals their engine, which is not uncommon, they could also reclaim it from the government if it is found, as engine numbers are listed during registration.
In Talisay City, Cebu, Greg dela Torre, head of the Fishermen Sea and Ecological Care (Fiseca), the city’s Bantay Dagat office, said the city has a similar problem with not even half of its fishermen registered.
Bantay Dagat is composed of deputized fishery wardens who go after illegal fishers at the local level.
But he said the fee of P50/year for a boat below 10 horsepower and P75/year if above 10 hp could not possibly be a hindrance to registration because “they can even afford the motorbanca.”
Fiseca uses a speedboat and a pumpboat to conduct patrols in three shifts, and a delineation map and GPS (Global Positioning System) to detect illegal fishers in its waters.
Talisay has problems with fishermen from Carcar City and San Fernando town fishing in its waters. Commercial fishermen from Bohol province and Mindanao have also reached Talisay, he said.
Under the city’s ordinance, the penalty of jail is meted only when the offender has violated the law for the third time, during which his boat and gear will also be confiscated.
This may be a reason why there are repeat offenders.
But he says that with the painful penalty for the third offense, most repeat offenders stop at the second offense.
In the Fisheries Code, “there is no first offense,” he admitted.
But he said the local ordinance made provisions for the first, second and third offense so the city could earn from the fines meted violators.
Like in Lapu-Lapu City, Talisay does not restrict the amount of fish that fishermen can catch in municipal waters, so long as they use legal methods to catch the fish.
However, it has designated a restricted area, the Lagundi Marine Sanctuary in Poblacion Talisay, where fishing is not allowed but where there are violators.
Last July, Fiseca personnel could not apprehend fishermen observed to be dynamite fishing in the sanctuary because their boats were not in working condition.
To prevent illegal fishing, Dela Torre said, there are plans to teach fishermen to use fish cages or fish pens (bungsod), but he said this would need a lot of members.
Fishermen also want to earn on the same day. But with a fish pen, they would still have to raise the fingerlings provided to them.
He said there already was a fish cage in front of the Fiseca headquarters in Barangay Cansojong operated by the city’s fisherfolk federation headed by Eda Cabusas.
Put up last year, it fell apart even before super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) came in November. It was restored after that storm.
With few livelihood alternatives for fishermen, it will be hard to prevent illegal fishing.
But in Bantayan town, one of the three towns on Bantayan Island (the others being Sta. Fe and Madridejos), the law is enforced with an iron will and a focus.
Full government support that has included addressing the root causes of illegal fishing has earned the town plaudits from Cebu’s environmental advocates, who cite it as a model for marine resource protection.
Asked its successful formula for thwarting overfishing, the first thing Marlon Marande, the town’s fishery technician and Bantay Dagat task force team leader, said
was: “Dakop (Arrests).”
“Our target is to arrest the commercial fishermen who enter our municipal waters,” he said.
Since 2012, they have apprehended 32 commercial fishing boats, whose operators were from Cadiz City and Sagay City in Negros Occidental, and other parts of Bantayan Island. Some boats carried up to 40 banyera (tubs) of fish.
At the first offense, a case is immediately filed against violators.
The town throws the book at them, filing as many cases as possible for violating both RA 8550, which has harsher penalties because these involve jail terms, and the municipal ordinance, which prescribes fines and makes no allowance for a first offense.
“We file a lot of cases so we can raise money (from the fines) for our expenses,” he said.
He said the commercial fishermen they apprehended were millionaires, making their job dangerous. Powerful figures included the secretary of a Negros governor, arrested just last May 26.
He said “no anomalies” occur during arrests. The Bantay Dagat team leader and three pumpboat operators don’t accept bribes from violators.
“Hadlok mi sa among mayor. Isog kaayo. Isog siya sa magtinonto (We’re afraid of our mayor. He is fierce and doesn’t tolerate wrongdoing),” he said.
The Bantay Dagat normally conducts patrols using two pumpboats. But with both under repair, it is now using the municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s pumpboat.
Many commercial fishermen enter Bantayan’s territorial waters because the area teems with fish owing to its marine sanctuaries.
Of the town’s 20 coastal barangays, 17 have marine sanctuaries. Each sanctuary occupies 20 hectares.
Marande said the town provides support—15 liters of gasoline a month to each barangay, so it can patrol its own sanctuary.
“We also give materials, like rope, nylon and buoys for marking the boundaries of the sanctuary, so fishermen know where not to enter,” he said.
The fine for fishing in the sanctuary is P200 to P500, depending on the barangay ordinance.
He said Bantayan Mayor Ian Christopher Escario also gives marine project assistance of P50,000/year, which can be used for maintaining the barangay sanctuary and patrol boat or making a floating guardhouse.
In the Tañon Strait, four barangays integrated their areas into one sanctuary. The 177-hectare sanctuary, Bsita Isla, gets assistance of P500,000/year. Visitors can swim and dive there for a fee.
Since the 1990s, livelihood projects by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Bfar) have also enabled residents to earn from growing high-value fish species like grouper, red snapper and sweet lips in fish cages. These are supplied live to restaurants in Cebu and Lapu-Lapu City.
“Bantayan is also the biggest producer of seaweed in Cebu,” Marande said. “It supplies Shemberg,” a leading producer and supplier of refined carrageenan in the world.
Bantayan has 800 hectares of seaweed farms, begun also in the 1990s, but by the residents themselves, he said. Today, 1,400 fisherman-planters grow seaweed in five islets.
“Before, Bantayan was known for illegal fishing and dynamite fishing, but now no more. It’s because of seaweed,” he said.
After typhoon Yolanda wiped out the farms, the Bfar provided seedlings. NGOs and other sponsors helped, and operations are now back to normal.
Bfar has also had a mangrove project in the town since 2012. It pays residents P6 per seedling planted, 80 percent of which is released on planting and the balance after the mangroves have grown.
Five barangays have mangrove areas. They survived Yolanda’s fury.Mangroves and seaweeds serve as nurseries and feeding grounds for fish and crustaceans.
Even in registration, the town tries its best.
“Bantayan Island is number one in the online registration of fishermen with the Bfar for the province of Cebu,” Marande said.
In May 2013, the Bfar had launched its National Program for Municipal Fisherfolk Registration to help speed up the registration of municipal fisherfolk by LGUs.
The program aimed to serve fishermen better by giving them medical and health insurance.
Before Yolanda, he admitted that few registered.
“But after Yolanda, when they saw that those who had registered received pumpboats, fishing gear, and accident and boat insurance from Bfar, the number of registrants tripled,” Marande said.
Aside from the mayor’s support, he credits the town’s success in marine resource protection to the bravery of the Bantay Dagat crew, who are job-order employees, and the hard work of the Philippine National Police and the local FARMC led by chairman Louie Revamonte.
“We love our job,” he said. “We can help the local fishermen, who are the most pitiful because they can no longer catch any fish if the commercial fishermen can get in.”
Where the poor are
Among the basic sectors, fishermen had the highest poverty incidence of 41.4 percent in 2009, way above the 26.5 percent poverty incidence for the whole country, said Dr. Jose Ramon Albert, Philippine Statistics Authority-National Statistical Coordination Board secretary general.
They received the country’s third lowest average daily basic wage of P178.43 in 2011, after domestic helpers’ P138.99 and farmers’ P156.81.
And despite Central Visayas being surrounded by seven major marine aquatic ecosystems, including the Visayan Sea, Bohol Sea and East Sulu Sea, the region had the country’s fourth highest poverty incidence for fishermen at 48 percent in 2009, after Caraga’s 59.2 percent, Northern Mindanao’s 51.5 percent and Zamboanga Peninsula’s 48.2 percent.
To halve the proportion of people in extreme poverty from 1990 to 2015 to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the Philippines will have to look into the plight of fishermen, which means looking into the plight of the seas from which they derive their living.
To save the seas from overexploitation, consumers can also do their part. They can refuse to buy juveniles, fish roe (bihod), endangered species, and dynamited fish apparent, Bfar says, from their damaged fins, lack of scales, bulging and reddish eyes, and skin blood clots.
Ensuring that the ocean’s bounty will be there for years to come will hinge on giving the fish a break.