Thousands rally in Bicol to “defend the oceans” against illegal fishing

Press release - July 20, 2013
Donsol, Sorsogon Province —Today, more than a thousand people marched in Bicol province in a rally meant to “defend the oceans” from illegal and destructive fishing.

The march was joined by crew and campaigners from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which anchored this morning off the coast of Donsol town, Sorsogon, around 540 kilometers south of Manila. The Esperanza, which is touring the Philippines to promote oceans protection, arrived in Donsol straight from a five-day sea patrol against illegal fishing, jointly conducted with representatives from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Region V office [1].

As part of community solidarity activities, local fishing boats, together with the Esperanza, formed a symbolic demarcation line in the coastal waters of Donsol. The flotilla was meant to demonstrate the communities’ demand for the strict enforcement of the ban on commercial fishing vessels within the 15 kilometer zone reserved for municipal fishers.

“The solid show of force from more than a thousand people today is a testament of the strong desire from communities to end illegal and unsustainable fishing in the area,” said Msgr. Angel Dy of Sorsogon Social Action Foundation. “It is the fisherfolk who have been bearing the brunt of illegal fishing in the area.”

“Illegal and destructive fishing is a bane to the health of the oceans and to the livelihoods of coastal communities,” said Vince Cinches, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Oceans Campaigner aboard the Esperanza. “Greenpeace is in solidarity with coastal communities and fisherfolk in their desire to reclaim the seas and to put an end to this pervasive threat.”

According to Greenpeace, unsustainable commercial fishing activities are a key threat faced by our seas.  Overfishing and destructive fishing particularly illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) by commercial fishing fleets within Philippine waters is a major problem. Commercial operations are also banned within the 15 kilometer limits of municipal waters. However, a large number of commercial vessels in the country operate within these limits with impunity, deploying highly destructive fishing methods that finish off the fish stocks and leave little for local fishermen.

The coastal waters off Donsol [2], namely Ticao and Burias Pass, are among the country’s most productive fishing grounds . However, these waters are also representative of the problems faced by the nation’s oceans. Iconic marine species, such as whale sharks, and eco-tourism are side by side with poverty in coastal communities, IUU fishing and the decline of catch and fisheries species.

Based on existing data [3], one third of commercially important fish in Donsol are already overfished. The annual fish harvest of about 1,350 metric tons by the municipal fisheries sector is upset by the intrusion of commercial fishers in Donsol who harvest about 12,000 metric tons of fish annually.

There are more than 350 commercial fishing boats owned by around 250 operators engaged in trawl fishing around the Bicol region. Trawl fishing is method of gathering huge numbers of fish and unintended catch by dragging a giant net, sometimes up to the bottom of the sea, behind a ship. Other illegal commercial vessels in the waters of Donsol use “super lights,” a destructive method is used to attract marine life at night, capturing everything including juvenile fish and non-targeted species.

“These commercial vessels are stealing from us,” said Nelson Nañez, a fisherfolk representative of the Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council of Pilar, Sorsogon. “They are stealing fish catch that is rightfully ours,” he stressed.  “Our effort as a group is not enough; we want more support from the government to strengthen our capacity to protect our waters.”

Municipal fisherfolk in Sorsogon Province, together with the Church, academe, non-government organizations and local fisherfolk are active in protecting their municipal fishing grounds and have long been opposing the presence of illegal commercial fishing vessels in their waters. Greenpeace is working to support fishing communities in the country, particularly in places like Ticao-Burias Pass and Donsol to help put an end to destructive fishing and overfishing.

“The Philippine seas are being assailed from all sides by climate change, pollution and illegal and destructive fishing,” said Cinches. “Greenpeace, along with a broad group of stakeholders, is calling on the Aquino Administration to initiate a Roadmap to Recovery for the Philippine seas [4]. To effectively address unsustainable fishing, this roadmap should include strengthening the capacity of government institutions to deal with illegal fishing. The government has to act now to reverse an impending fisheries decline.”

The Esperanza is in the Philippines for the “Ocean Defender Tour of Southeast Asia 2013.” [5]   The tour aims to tell the story of the richness and the beauty of the Philippine seas, expose destruction that causes marine degradation, and sound the alarm to call for urgent government action to save the Philippine seas from crisis. Filipinos can join a growing movement of people dedicated to saving the seas by signing up at www.defendouroceans.org.

 

For more information and interview arrangements, please contact:

Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner, +63917-5363754,

 Vigie Benosa-Llorin, Media Campaigner, +63917-8228793,

Notes

[1] http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/ph/press/releases/Greenpeace-BFAR-vow-to-end-illegal-fishing-the-scourge-of-Philippine-seas/

[2] This area is considered to be the manta bowl and whale shark capital of the country. Very high plankton concentrations brought by strong currents from San Bernardino Strait attract iconic marine creatures such as manta rays, whale sharks, hammerheads and thresher sharks, which frequent this feeding ground. Other fish species such as jacks, tuna, sardines and mackerel, which are important to the local population for their daily protein needs, are also found here.

[3] Assessment of the Municipal Capture Fisheries of Donsol, Sorsogon:  An Analysis of Fishing Gear Inventory, Catch and Effort and Economics Dr. Victor S. Soliman, Bicol University.

[4] Greenpeace is calling on the Aquino administration to immediately act against the crisis of overfishing and marine ecosystem degradation by enacting a Road to Recovery for the Philippine Seas that includes:

  1. Ensuring that the protection, rehabilitation, and conservation of Philippine seas are a national priority (such by improving MPA management and establishing a national network of marine reserves) ; and
  2. Eliminates overfishing and allowing the recovery of the Philippine fish stocks. This can be achieved with steps such as stronger vehicle registry systems, halting the issuance of commercial permits, and strict enforcement of the 15 kilometer zone for small scale fishers.

[5] http://greenpeace.org/seasia/ph/ocean-defender-2013/
      Briefing papers available at http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/ph/press/reports/Ocean-Defender-Briefers/

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