Restricted access, trawlers injure artisanal fishermen in the Philippines – Radio Free Asia
Restrictions in Philippine territorial waters and on the high seas, as well as threats from large-scale fishing operations, are the biggest problems facing subsistence fishermen in the 7,100-island archipelagic country, according to an organization that treats them. represented.
In recent years, the governments of coastal municipalities have begun to restrict their “municipal fishing areas”, or waters up to 15 km (9 miles) from the shore, allowing only resident fishermen who register with the authorities. local, said Fernando Hicap, president of Pamalakaya, a Filipino fishermen’s organization.
“Imagine, you are a Filipino fisherman, you are in the Philippines and you are at municipal fishing grounds, but you are being prosecuted for illegal entry. Is it hurtful? Isn’t that wrong? Hicap told BenarNews, an online information service affiliated with RFA.
” What misery. Add to this this [COVID-19] pandemic – no one is buying the little catch they bring home because of the blockages, ”Hicap said, adding that fishermen had no choice but to consume their own catch or trade it for d ‘other small products.
Municipalities allow foreigners to pay an annual fee, usually no less than 1,000 pesos (US $ 20) – a fee that subsistence fishermen, who use small-scale, low-tech practices, cannot afford. pay – depending on the Hicap group. In addition, it is not possible to register and pay a fee in every coastal municipality to be able to fish in waters traditionally common to Filipinos.
Restrictions were not a problem in recent decades when there were more fish in the shallows, said Benjamin Sumaganday, a fisherman from the northern town of Masinloc.
“In the old days, there were huge holds. But the population has grown over the years and we cannot afford to stay in municipal waters, ”the father of four told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, on June 5, the world will mark the fourth International Day to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “IUU fishing includes many types of illegal activities, for example, fishing without a license or authorization, non-reporting or misreporting of catches, fishing in prohibited areas and the capture or sale of prohibited species, or fishing in areas not covered by a regulatory framework.
The Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is committed to protecting residents from such activities.
Calling on Filipinos to focus their fishing efforts in the West Philippine Sea – an area of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims as its home territory – the government agency has pledged to step up patrols against illegal fishing disadvantaged fishermen local.
“[W]We remain committed to our mandate to combat IUU fishing in Philippine waters, ”the office said in a press release earlier this year.
Municipal action called into question
Even though city governments cite conservation as a reason for restricting fishing access to their waters, Hicap said those in power could benefit – otherwise, they wouldn’t let commercial trawlers in.
“Small-scale fishermen are not the cause of the depletion of municipal waters. The cause of this depletion is the commercial vessels freely exploiting these waters, ”said Hicap.
Anna Oposa, leader of the Save Philippine Seas advocacy group, said law enforcement must be tighter and commercial fishing must be banned.
“Our fishermen are already among the poorest and most marginalized groups in the country and work hard to feed the country and the rest of the world. There can be no positive outcome for the Filipino people if we allow commercial fishing activities where they should not be allowed, ”Oposa said.
Sumaganday, 52, said many fishermen in her community have joined fishing fleets so that they can fish further out to sea even as territorial tensions pit Filipinos against foreign fishing fleets, especially from China.
“Most of the time it’s not hostile, but there are times when we are driven out of territories that are traditionally ours,” said the fisherman from Masinloc.
In March, government security officials reported the presence of around 200 Chinese trawlers at Whitsun Reef in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and elsewhere in the disputed South China Sea. Officials said the trawlers were piloted by maritime militias, but Beijing denied the charge and insisted the waters were on Chinese territory.
Manila has filed daily diplomatic protests with Beijing since April, asking it to withdraw the ships. Additionally, the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard and Fisheries Bureau have deployed more vessels to Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands in an attempt to hunt or at least challenge Chinese trawlers.
Since Beijing took control of Mischief Reef in the Philippine EEZ in 1995, the presence of Chinese ships has grown steadily in the South China Sea. In 2012, China and the Philippines were embroiled in a months-long standoff at Scarborough Shoal.
Four years later, in 2016, an international arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of Manila’s land claims in the maritime region, but that hasn’t slowed Beijing’s expansionist activities at sea.
Hicap’s group Pamalakaya recently called on the UN to overturn Beijing’s new coastguard law, investigate environmental damage caused by Chinese ships in the South China Sea and ‘demilitarize’ the strategic and resource-rich waterway.
The law, which came into effect in February, allows its ships to use weapons against any vessel found in waters Beijing claims to be its territory.
Philippine authorities who lack maritime resources have struggled to catch poachers, including foreigners from China and Vietnam.
“There has been significant damage to marine life in municipal waters. The figures vary among different studies, but it has been estimated that 60 to 75 percent of the Philippines’ fishing grounds are overexploited, ”Oposa told BenarNews. “There is also a significant decline in the health and coverage of coral reefs, which is alarming because coral reefs are habitat for fish. “
A fishermen’s organization that fished freely in Scarborough Shoal said their catch – and income – had fallen by as much as 80%.
“We used to be able to go, but not now,” Sumaganday said.
“Now we are forced to fish elsewhere,” he said, adding that the shoal was once the source of a large catch.
Fishing industry figures
Subsistence fishermen make up the largest sector of the Philippine fishing industry, according to the most recent data from BFAR.
Of the 1.9 million fishermen registered with BFAR, more than 927,000 engage in small-scale “capture fishing”, while over 239,000 engage in “gleaning” or fishing with basic gear in shallow water. deep. Pedal boats made up about 68 percent of registered vessels.
Meanwhile, much of the government support for the industry goes to aquaculture – raising fish in ponds, nets or cages in natural or man-made bodies of water – which employs around 209,000 people, according to official statistics.
Most fishermen live hand to mouth and have few options to professionalize their livelihoods, including acquiring larger and more reliable boats and equipment. As Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen use metal or wood and metal trawlers, many Filipinos use traditional type wooden stabilizers.
Hicap fears that as the Philippine Congress changes the constitution to allow full foreign ownership of the country’s businesses, Filipino fishermen, especially the poor, will sink further down the government’s list of priorities.
“The government should ensure that municipal fishing areas remain communal. They should be limited to subsistence fishermen, without commercial vessels, ”he said.
Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.