“Even amid our abundant marine resources, our fishermen are among the poorest of the poor because of three major problems: declining fish catch, degraded marine habitats, and encroachment of commercial fishers engaged in bottom trawling.”

— Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos
Oceana Philippines Vice President

“Alam mo naman sa gobyerno … alam na natin … kung ano … minsan effective, minsan hindi …”

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Such broken, unfinished sentences, yet pregnant with undertones, about government action comes from fisherman Caloy (not his real name) expressed in a video recently presented by Oceana, an international ocean conservation and advocacy organization.

Atty. Gloria “Golly” Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines and a member of the Executive Committee of Oceana International, says Oceana is in our country because the Philippines is “the center of the center” of marine biodiversity in the world.

Atty. Ramos points out that our marine resources provide food for 50 million Filipinos and long-term livelihood to 1.8 million fisherfolk.

What’s more, as the top 11th exporter of wild-caught fish, the Philippines helps feed the world.

Marine biodiversity refers to the richness and abundance in the world’s seas and oceans. The world is 70% water, which provides most of what we need to survive—food, livelihood, health resources, and even recreation areas. If we destroy our waters, we practically destroy our world.

Wild-caught fish are those caught by fishermen from their natural habitat, as in the sea, such as swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, shark, and tuna. Farm-raised fish—tilapia, catfish or hito, salmon—are, yes, raised by farmers.

Debate is ongoing about which is better—wild-caught or farm-raised. Those against farm-raised say the fish are fed with antibiotics or pesticides—which could make you sick. While those against wild-caught, worry over environmental issues such as commercial fishing—especially through bottom trawling—which is destroying the seas, many areas of which, including those around our territory, are already overfished.

Oceana Philippines campaigns officer Candeze Mongaya presents as an example, the plight of sardines. She says in 2015, the Philippines had a net 344,730,201 kilograms of sardines, worth P7.43 billion, which makes sardines a major economic driver.

Mongaya says that there are telltale signs of overfishing of sardines: the catch is dwindling, and those caught are smaller than their parent-sardines we enjoyed many years ago. The culprits, Mongaya adds, are climate change and ocean temperatures, plus those using killer fishing gears.

Which brings us to bottom trawling. It refers to fishing using a cone-shaped net to catch bottom-dwelling creatures and invertebrates. In the Philippines, trawlers operate on soft, sandy, and muddy seabeds. Their target: the highly-prized shrimps and prawns we so want to have on our table.

As the top 11th exporter of wild-caught fish, the Philippines helps feed the world.

ROLE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Alas, Atty. Ramos laments, even amid our abundant marine resources, our fishermen are among the poorest of the poor because of three major problems: declining fish catch, degraded marine habitats, and encroachment of commercial fishers engaged in bottom trawling, using gear like a vacuum cleaner to collect seafood from our municipal waters.

Atty. Ramos says Oceana mounts campaigns combining policy, advocacy, science, law, media, and public pressure to save the oceans from pollution and irresponsible industrial fishing. She added that the success of the campaigns depends largely on the cooperation of local government units. Without their will to implement the laws, saving the seas will be nothing but an impossible dream.

Woman sells fish in Moalboal.

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