I couldn’t stop thinking of my favorite Galunggong fish (roundscad) back in the Philippines while observing a meeting of world’s governments at the United Nations in New York! Popularly known as poor man’s fish in my country due to its abundance hence affordability, the Galunggong in my mind is being pan-fried and served with brown rice and fresh tomatoes. 

I think my daydreaming of the local fish was a sub-conscious reaction. I learned from Dr. Perry Alino, a professor of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute and a member of the Philippine delegation to this meeting that the Philippines is now importing Galunggong and other fishes formerly plentiful in its seas and rivers. The causes of decline in the supply and quality of staple fishes are varied. They include overfishing, destructive fishing practices, pollution, seabed mining and other extractive activities, that are happening—take note-- in the high and deep seas or areas beyond national waters. Global warming has also adversely impacted the world’s oceans increasing the water acidity and threatening coral reefs and certain marine organisms. 

What’s happening in the remote and deep parts of the oceans that are outside any country’s jurisdiction is affecting the supply and quality of our sea food, and ultimately the economic and social conditions of the people.

It is quite timely that world governments recently gathered for the UN 3rd Preparatory Committee Meeting on the International Legally Binding Instrument for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction. Top on the agenda was how to address the numerous problems in those key areas.

One of the solutions to restore the sustaining capacity of oceans is the establishment of marine protected areas and marine reserves.

A Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a designated area managed for particular objectives, ranging from no-take marine reserves or marine sanctuaries with regulated use. Think of it as a sanctuary, where fishing is off limits to help fish live and breed. MPAs are one entry point for fisheries management. 

According to Professor Doug McCauley from the University of California Sta. Barbara, studies show that fishes in MPAs are more and bigger, and more and bigger fishes produce more and bigger baby fishes. 

This is consistent with the lessons learned from MPAs in the Philippines and in other parts of Southeast Asia that show increase in the fish population and resilience in the protected areas.

Thus, in this process in New York, governments must set up a robust, transparent, inclusive and science based process for the creation, implementation and enforcement of a global representative network of interconnected MPAs including marine reserves in waters beyond national jurisdiction, thus filling the last massive gap in ocean governance. Greenpeace has suggested a process on how this could work in practice

Amazingly, this UN process, seemingly far and irrelevant to our everyday typical life in Southeast Asia will eventually have a concrete and proximate impact on our lives, on our social and economic conditions, and on our Galunggong and other staple fishes. 

Atty. Zelda Soriano is the Legal and Political Adviser for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, based in the Philippines.