It’s a starry night out here on-board the MY Esperanza as we sail to our next destination - Manila. The waves are calm, just perfect as we drift through the night. The air is humid; maybe in a while the rain will visit us, just like the last few days we’ve been out here.

Save our Seas light painting

Illegal fishing is a massive problem in the Bicol region, resulting in the plunder of fish stocks. It is stealing from coastal communities, and these illegal vessels that repeatedly fail to comply with the rules must be stopped. Our oceans can only accommodate fewer fishing vessels; proper control and enforcement of fishing regulations are badly needed.

Our past nights have been spent patrolling the Burias-Ticao pass with enforcers from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), on the lookout for illegal commercial fishers, which are rampant in the area. Commercial fishing has been a problem, especially for municipal fisherfolk, whose livelihood has been severely affected by these illegal activities.

Strangely, we didn’t encounter any illegal fishing activities in the area, though we got reports from various reliable sources that these vessels are active on normal days. But just because they didn’t want to come out doesn’t mean we couldn’t come to them. Together with the inspectors from BFAR, we boarded and inspected 5 commercial fishing vessels anchored in the seas of Pio Duran. Not to our surprise, these vessels lack paperwork – no fishing licenses, expired safety certificates, even the crew have no proper working permits.

BFAR fishing vessel inspection

In Pilar, we apprehended one fishing vessel on its way out of the port to conduct fishing operations since just like the other 5 commercial fishing vessels that we have encountered, they also had incomplete paperwork. It was towed back and impounded by the BFAR.

This got me to thinking how hard it actually is to catch illegal fishers. For starters, current fisheries laws limit enforcers to catching them red-handed. This only means that enforcement plays a crucial and integral part to combat illegal fishing, and that inspection should be done on a regular basis.

It’s 12AM, the start of my duty to help out as a night watch. As I fix my gaze to the moon and stars, I kept on wishing for the government to take action and rescue our seas, ensure the livelihoods of coastal communities and maintain food security for current and future generations.

This is not the end of it. This is just the beginning of more exciting times patrolling and defending our seas. And when we return, fellow ocean defenders, I hope you’ll still be there to join us.

Cristina Nitafan is a social networks coordinator for Greenpeace Philippines.