“What small fishermen like us catch in one month, the pangulong will catch in one night.” These words keep on reverberating in my mind after watching the video of Jaime Rabulan, a Donsol resident who fish for a living.

 

“Pangulong” is a local term used to describe commercial vessels engaged in purse seining, a method of fishing where fish are encircled by a large 'wall' of net, brought together and closed like a purse. The problem with this method is that even juvenile fishes are trapped inside.

Worse, these commercial fishing boats use “superlights”. We saw a few of them while sailing at night. They were on the other side of a long island and yet the clouds were lit up like there was a big party in the sea. The lights attract everything from plankton, small fish, and the larger fish that eat them. I wouldn’t be surprised if it attracts other animals, too, like whale sharks and turtles. Where there is food, there is fish.

This practice, which severely affects the livelihood of small scale municipal fisherfolk like Mang Jaime, has been going on in the Burias-Ticao pass for a long time.

I learned that in 2011, a group of small scale fisherfolk sought the assistance of the town bishops. They relayed all their hardships and how their livelihoods were affected by these pangulong.

Fortunately, the bishops were responsive enough. In September 5, 2011, together with some legislators, they sent a letter of concern to President Aquino asking him to look into the plight of these fisherfolk.

A meeting with the President followed. Successive enforcement activities were made following instructions given by the President to all agencies concerned. But it was only temporary, as the enforcement efforts slowly died down.

Here in the Philippines, we have a law - Republic Act No. 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code - that prohibits the use of active gear in municipal waters, bays or other fishery management areas, use of superlights in municipal waters and bays, fishing during closed season or in overfished areas, and commercial fishing within the 15 kilometer municipal waters, among others.

But the question that is really bugging me is that how come, despite the law, these pangulong are still very much present, encroaching the municipal waters of Bicol, stealing fish from small fisher folk like Mang Jaime.

There should be a more unrelenting political will to push for fundamental changes to be made in the way our oceans are managed. A strong unified program between the Local Government Units (LGUs) and national agency against illegal fishing should eventually follow to address the logistical problems of enforcement. The LGU should stop allowing the entry of commercial fishing vessels from 10.1 kilometers of the 15km radius of municipal waters, which is a loophole that commercial fishing takes interest in, and their political patrons capitalize on.

Being part of the on-board team of the M/Y Esperanza, as she sails the Philippine seas for the Ocean Defender Tour, I can only hope that authorities will strictly enforce the law to give small fisher folk such as Mang Jaime a fair share of fish catch from the municipal waters, which in the first place should belong to them.

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For us at Greenpeace, we believe you can help.

  1. Demand that your supermarket and tuna brand source sustainable tuna. Look for tuna cans with “Pole and Line” or “Hand-Caught.”
  2. Ask your politicians and business leaders to protect our oceans. Add your voice here!
  3. Learn about where your fish is from- is it from far away? How many of this fish is left? Knowing what you're eating and making the right decisions is important.
  4. Pledge to save the Philippine seas.

Cristina Nitafan is a social networks coordinator at Greenpeace Philippines, currently on-board the M/Y Esperanza. Follow her tweet updates via @cr3ng.