Creation of a Dept of Fisheries Unshackles Two Million Coastal Families from Poverty

by Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan, Part II

EXPANSION BEYOND NEAR-PRIMITIVE NORMS. The “basnig” is the top fishing equipment used by Filipinos to venture beyond pelagic waters.

So let us cut to the chase and deliberately free 10 million of our people from the poverty line.


What are a few of the broad strokes that I would like to offer as solutions to a decrepit fishing and marine industry that has been neglected by 16 presidents of the Philippine Republic?


1) STRUCTURAL REFORM – Working as a consultant to the Secretary of Agriculture and Fisheries, I advocated for the legislation of a separate Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR), since 2003. What we are talking about when pursued can make us one of the leaders in world fisheries trade beyond achieving our fish sufficiency for our own population.


How can we do that if fisheries is regarded only as an adjunct bureau budgeted by a measly 4.6% share of the department (of agriculture) that it is part of today? What substantial paradigm shift can we achieve with only $69 million?


The creation of DFAR and supporting it with an adequate budget is a good first step to deliberately inject seriousness in unshackling the true potentials of this sector. Untie the gordian knot that prevents our coastal population from escaping the vicous cycle of overfishing, diversify beyond the borders of our fishing mindsets aggressively contributing to our gross national product, and you immediately eradicate the nagging poverty incidence, not just infishing communities, but in the entire country.


2) DEVELOPING A DEEP-SEA FORCE – The Philippines has a feeble fishing industry to speak of. We have to alleviate intense fishing pressure on near shore stocks and minimize the overexploitation of our municipal waters by creating incentives to our commercial fishers and encouraging foreign direct investments so that we can go farther into deep waters, our exclusive economic zones and beyond.


So, immediately, we need to conduct exploratory research on non-traditional grounds and expanded waters to determine their full biological and economic potential.


Compare the “basnig” to the 75 (above) up to the 150-footer (below) deep sea trawlers that can carry more load and stay even weeks in the open seas.


No territorial disputes are anticipated on Fisheries Managements Areas 1 to 5a totaling 130 million hectares west and south of the Philippines. This includes the relatively uncharted resources of the Benham Rise and the Philippine Seas west of the Philippines and beyond.


But obviously, a modus vivendi must be forged with China on Areas 5b and 6 constituting 60 million hectares of what we claim in the South China Seas. (Refer to FMA Chart).

FISHERIES MANAGEMENT AREAS – Under FAO 263, the Philippine Waters are subdivided into 14 FMAs, based on stock distributions and structures of fisheries and administrative divisions. The United Nations formally awarded the Philippines 150 nautical miles of continental shelf at FMA-1, in addition to the UNCLOS entitlement of 200 nautical miles.

3) IMPROVING ABSORTIVE CAPACITY – Such potentially massive expansion must be met with political will from the Philippine government to provide an absorption capacity starting with strategic fishing hubs equipped with adequate facilities for ice plants to frozen storage, to port-side canning and processing, and necessary electrification preferably by renewable resources.


While working for the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC in the late 80s, I had the privilege of participating in one such huge absorptive capacity building in General Santos as seed-funded by the United States, as part of the Multilateral Aid Initiative.


I propose replicating this hub concept in Dingalan Bay in Aurora province, Calabanga (San Miguel Bay) in Camarines Sur, Matarinao Bay in Eastern Samar, Bislig Bay in Surigao Sur, Dapulisan (Pagadian Bay) in Zamboanga del Sur, and the Zamboanga Fish Port Complex (ZFPC) in Zamboanga City. (See attached chart) These locations are accessible by land, sea and/or air transport and foretells economic impact to the poorest populations of the Philippines.

This chart merely shows the first-step development of an Eastern and Southern deep-sea hubs where it is most needed to immediately impact on highest poverty incidence in the country. Needless to say, the concept will inevitably expand to the western side of the country.

This should start naming and empowering these hubs, and other equivalent facilities in the country like in the cities of Davao and General Santos, as Fisheries Economic Zones (FEZs) offering incentives and tax holidays for fleet owners and processing locators.


4) STRICTLY-REGULATED MUNICIPAL FISHING AND MARITIME PROTECTION – There is also the immediate need to arrest the progressive decline of fish catch in our inland and coastal waters, where fishing efforts have gone beyond sustainable levels.


We need to establish more protected areas and spawning sanctuaries and resolutely enforce close fishing seasons to allow mature, juvenile fish to grow to marketable size. We must rehabilitate our mangroves, seagrass and algae beds, and other soft-bottom communities.


Of special concern are the coral reefs covering 27,000 square kilometers -known all over the world for being home to 533 species of corals and about 2,000 marine fish species, exceeding Australia’s barrier reef which has only 350 coral and 1,500 fish species. But due to wanton over-fishing, fish abundance had been estimated to have declined 50 down to 20 tons per square kilometer compared with 100 tons for pristine coral reefs.


5) SERIOUS AQUA/MARICULTURE EXPANSION – Compared with the aquaculture in Vietnam and Thailand, we have a long way to go in further expanding fish pens, fish cages and fish ponds in our lakes, rivers, reservoirs and in coastal, brackish water areas as well as sea-based mariculture. We need to improve hatchery and grow-out technologies and brood stock farms.

We need to scale up research and development on biology, breeding, fry production, nutrition, culture and fish health for new species like crabs, sea bass, groupers, abalone and maybe even Pacific Blue-fin tuna.


Just as in building of deep-sea fleets, we have to secure investments offering investors with incentives, by accrediting these parks as subsidiaries of the FEZ programs, in the development of large-scale aqua/mariculture parks and like facilities, and the integration of small fishermen and their cooperatives.


6) POLICIES, SYSTEMS AND INSTITUTIONS – There is so much upside potential for our fisheries sector. However, in addition to addressing the technological, ecological and economic challenges, we need to have the appropriate fisheries policies, management systems and institutions in place. It is necessary to build and strengthen the capabilities of the local government units (LGUs), non-government organizations (NGOs) and local communities, whose participation is key to every governance success.


7) ENFORCEMENT – In the areas of cooperation on maritime law enforcement, and cooperation in the protection of the marine environment, this is where I suggest that in the absence of an ASEAN China Code of Conduct, that we bilaterally move forward to joint China-Philippine Coast Guard patrols especially as we venture outside our territorial seas. Within our sovereign jurisdiction, we must build a fleet capability, in collaboration with the City and Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic offices (CMFARs), for patrol boats.


8) REORIENTATION – The proposed Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources must be supported with a massive continuing educational system echoed to reach the lowest level of governance at the village levels through Barangay Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Councils (BFARCs) organized by the CMFARs.


The challenge of the new fisheries paradigm is so ambitious, our best bet for success is partnering with China on this herculean task. The Chinese liberated 800 million of their people from the poverty line in just about 30 years. It is the only nation that has a preferential option to help developing countries such as ours, with the least conditionalities.


China is forecast to account for 38% of the fish supply for world’s human consumption by 2030, it will be foolhardy not to join that bandwagon. So, let’s start a deliberate cooperation now, borrowing its roadmaps.


In the light of the Asian century that is starting to blossom in the horizon, China has invited all nations to share its vision to build a community of shared future for mankind.


Being the closest country to China with its soft-belly in the South China Seas to our face, I am optimistic China will lean backward as we constructively leverage our geopolitical location to be her most important strategic partner in helping alleviate hunger in the planet.


Part 1 : Urgent Prospects of Building a Real Fishing Industry with China as Partner

This is an adaptation of a working paper submitted to the Webinar on Cooperation on Protection of Marine Environment, Fisheries Management and Maritime Law Enforcement, a joint project of Global Governance Institution (GGI), a think tank based in Beijing, and Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila, held via Zoom on August 20, 2022

Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan is Vice president for Internal Affairs of the Manila-based Asian Century Institute for Strategic Studies. He was a Philippine diplomat to Washington DC from 1986 to 1993, and consultant to the Philippine Secretary of Agriculture and Fisheries from 2002 to 2004. He has published three books of contemporary import.




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