Issue of July 7, 2019
     
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Creation of fishery agency reiterated
by PNA release

Environmentalists, scientists, and civil society groups reiterated the need for the creation of a separate government agency to give more attention and support for the sustainable development of the country’s fisheries and aquatic resources.

“As the Philippines transition to ‘blue economy’, we call on the creation of a separate Department of Fisheries and Oceans that will be mandated to study, utilize, manage, and protect the largest ecosystem and future biggest contributor to Philippine economy – our oceans and seas,” said Dr. Deo Onda of the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI), in a press conference organized by Oceana Philippines.

The concept of “blue economy” has emerged as an important approach to driving the sustainable development of coasts and oceans, and a number of international organizations like the United Nations and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), along with several East Asian economies, have taken up the call for developing a blue economy in the region.

The Philippines is considered a highly-biodiverse country, being at the center of the Coral Triangle, which has now been recognized as the global center for marine biodiversity,
Records show that for the past five years, the fisheries sector recorded negative growth – -0.15 percent in 2014, -1.96 percent in 2015, -4.18 percent in 2016, -1.73 percent in 2017, and -1.13 percent in 2018 despite having 220 million hectares of territorial waters including the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 750,000 hectares of inland waters (lakes, rivers, reservoirs), and a coastline of 17,460 kilometers.

Onda said the EEZ is the area surrounding the Philippines up to 200 nautical miles from the shore. Fisheries production of both municipal and EEZ waters of the country has declined over the past decades and is predicted to drop further by 25 to 50 percent in a few years’ time.

One of the country’s EEZs and is considered a rich fishing ground plentiful in marine life is the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The WPS EEZ stretches from Batanes to the south of Balabac in Southern Palawan, including the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys.

During the expedition, the UP-MSI team collected about six crates of trash ranging from bottles to plastic labels that bear foreign and Filipino brands, indicating human impact in the area.

Onda said the mere presence of micro and macro plastics alone is alarming, citing the reported death of marine animals due to ingestion of trash.

Former Agriculture secretary William Dar, who also proposed the creation of Department of Fisheries, said malnutrition and poverty still exist in many parts of the country particularly in coastal communities and that small fisherfolk still belong to the “poorest of the poor.”

This is because the country’s inland and coastal waters are degraded and overfished, and there is “limited” fund for the development of the fishing industry such as the putting up of post-harvest facilities like cold storage facilities, he noted.

Dar said there is also the problem with “restricted” undertaking of research and development by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources as in the case of the Philippine Rise (formerly called the Benham Rise), which has the potential that could make the country one of the top exporters of marine products in the world.

Dar said the vision and mission of the proposed Department of Fisheries is to harness R&D and science-based solutions to address wide-ranging poverty, especially among small fisherfolk and their communities.

Creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem for marine, fisheries, and aquaculture taking sustainability into account is also essential, he said.

Dar said there is an urgent need to create the Department of Fisheries to arrest the progressive decline of the fish catch of municipal and commercial fishers and to protect and rehabilitate the country’s coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass and algae beds, which are essential for the fish population to grow.


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