By Madelaine B. Miraflor
As the government continues to rely on importation to fill the demand for what is considered as the poor man’s fish, a group of fish producers thought it’s best for the Philippine government to take the supervision over the country’s fisheries and aquatic resources away from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and create a separate government agency.
Conservation groups and primary fish producers under the Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama (PaNaGaT) network said the Philippine government must establish a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) amid the increasing price of roundscad (galunggong) and fish importation.
The network has been advocating for strict enforcement of Philippine fishery laws and compliance to international agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, Life Below Water, which looks at the conservation and sustainable utilization of the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. (UN-FAO).
“There are 102 million people in the Philippines, 27 percent of whom are below the poverty line. Our fishery sector ranks second highest in terms of poverty incidence and about 82 million Filipinos eat fish. That’s how important our fishery products are,” said World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines Sustainable Tuna Partnerships Manager Joann Binondo.
Binondo pointed out the need for increased funding, strengthened institutional capacity and research and development of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to properly manage the countries’ marine resources.
According to BFAR, ₱60 billion is needed annually to properly manage the countries’ fisheries, but only ₱5 billion had been allocated by Congress for next year.
Illegal fishing alone costs the country nearly ₱68.5 billion, and a lack of effective enforcement of fishery laws has left about 75 percent fishery areas heavily exploited.
The DFAR would help with the effective management of the countries’ fisheries, Binondo said.
“We don’t want you to look at this as an expense on the part of the government. We want you to look at it as an investment,” said National Alliance of Fisheries Producers Incorporated (NAFPI) President Joseph Borromeo.
Under the sustainable blue economy, said Borromeo, the Net Annual Benefit from the Philippines’ coastal and marine resources is estimated at around ₱317 billion.
With the DFAR in place local fisheries and aquaculture industries would flourish, with the possibility of employment for many Filipinos, he added.
While not a priority bill of the current administration, President Rodrigo Duterte had promised during his election campaign along with now House Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano that they would establish a Department of Fisheries, separate from the DA.
“The fish are moving further away. Where before it was an hour’s ride out from shore, now it takes three or four hours. That means we have to spend more on gas. We catch less fish, we spend more time at sea, and we’re spending more and more for a declining resource,” said Subic Bay Integrated Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Marine Council Chairman Restituto del Rosario.