IMPULSES: Fishful thinking

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By Herman M. Lagon

Philippine fisheries are in the red flag, struggling with overfishing, illegal practices, and environmental degradation. No less than Edmundo Enderez, in his Daily Inquirer article last week, painted a grim picture of our current situation. It seems vital to understand the challenges we face and the paths we can take to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries as we look toward the future.

The fisheries sector is crucial in ensuring food security, offering livelihoods to millions, and significantly boosting our economy. However, the combined pressures of declining fish stocks, habitat destruction, and rising demand drive this essential resource toward the brink of collapse. Overfishing has resulted in smaller catches and fewer species, exacerbating protein deficiencies among coastal communities. This issue is local and global, as highlighted by Myers and Worth in 2003, who emphasized the urgency of addressing the near-extinction of some fish populations.

The Philippine fisheries sector contributes around 1.3% to the GDP and supports approximately 1.6 million jobs. Despite this, fishers often remain among the poorest, struggling to make ends meet. The situation in the West Philippine Sea, where Chinese forces limit access to our waters, further aggravates the plight of our fisherfolk. This ongoing territorial dispute endangers our sovereignty and the livelihoods of thousands relying on these waters.

Despite these challenges, I have seen firsthand the dedication of the fisheries faculty, administrators, and students at our university, the only institution in the country focused on fisheries. Their commitment to advancing practices in aquaculture, marine fisheries, post-harvest, fish processing, marine biology, coastal ecotourism, and the preservation of mangroves and ecosystems is genuinely inspiring. Alongside many others from various regions, they embody the hope and potential for a better future in fisheries management.

Diminished fish stocks and a loss of marine biodiversity due to overfishing, illegal fishing, habitat destruction, and pollution pose major challenges. Tackling these issues requires coordinated efforts and policies emphasizing sustainable practices. This includes educating communities about overpopulation’s impact on food security and implementing reproductive health initiatives in coastal regions.

Adopting ecosystem-based management strategies is also essential to effectively addressing threats to coastal resources. Strengthening law enforcement and improving agency coordination can also help protect our marine environments. Additionally, providing technical and financial support to local government units can empower them to implement effective fisheries management initiatives.

The importance of universities like ours that offer fisheries education cannot be overstated. We ensure students are well-prepared to deal with future difficulties by providing them with the information and skills necessary to manage and conserve fishery resources. The real-world training that may be gained through hands-on experiences, such as fieldwork in marine ecosystems and working with local fishermen, is beneficial.

As a result of the decrease in the output of Philippine fisheries, which the Philippine Statistics Authority reported, there is an immediate and pressing need for action. Even though aquaculture has experienced some expansion, both commercial and municipal fisheries need assistance. The reduction of losses and the enhancement of post-harvest practices can be accomplished by aquaculture investments and post-harvest practices, which will ultimately increase earnings for fishing communities.

The execution of the Fisheries and Coastal Resiliency Project (FISHCORE) by the World Bank is a positive development. The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) is carrying out the project. The implementation of this project will improve fisheries management, produce value, and coastal community incomes. Through a focus on sustainable practices and community resilience, FISHCORE has the potential to assist in reversing the negative trends occurring in our fisheries industry.

The West Philippine Sea continues to be a critical region for our fisheries. While ensuring that our fishermen have access to these waters is vital for maintaining our fisheries, protecting this territory from illegal incursions is also essential. As opposed to lip services and seditious engagements, solid diplomatic efforts against territorial bullies and conformity to international laws are required to do this.

Addressing the challenges in our fisheries sector requires addressing our fishermen’s socio-economic issues. The significant obstacles to implementing sustainable fishing techniques include poverty, a need for more sustainable alternative means of livelihood, and limited access to educational and medical resources and services. These towns have the potential to be elevated through the implementation of comprehensive support programs that offer financial aid, vocational training, and community development.

Considering the current situation, it is abundantly evident that we require an approach that incorporates multiple facets to manage complicated issues. This includes implementing policy changes, involvement with the community, and ongoing investments in educational and research endeavors. If we cultivate a culture emphasizing accountability and sustainability, we can guarantee that our fisheries will remain an essential resource for future generations.

Our fisheries in the Philippines face significant challenges but can be overcome. Achieving sustainable and resilient fisheries is possible through the combined efforts of government, academic institutions, and local communities. The passion and commitment of the fishery program in our respective universities with our promising fisheries students and our fisheries community partners offer hope for a brighter future.

Nonetheless, these realities make us reflect on the necessary steps to ensure the long-term viability of our fisheries. By resolving fundamental problems, implementing efficient management plans, and assisting our fishermen, we may steer ourselves toward a future where our oceans and fishponds will continue to provide for all Filipinos. The path may be difficult, but we can establish a thriving fisheries sector with coordinated effort and unwavering dedication. 

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