STOPPING illegal fishing is one of the priorities of the new director of the Iloilo Police Provincial Office, Police Colonel Roland Vilela. The provincial government wants him to focus specifically on the rich fishing grounds north of the province because it wants to ensure adequate supply of fish for the Ilonggos in a sustainable manner. Municipal governments along coasts – not only in Iloilo but across the country – must do no less.
On the larger scale, constituting the country’s territorial waters is a 220-million hectare fishing ground, of which 193.4 million hectares are oceanic waters and 26.6 million hectares are in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Within it are 38,000 hectares of lush mangrove cover and 810,000 square kilometers of coral reefs, home to mangroves, coral reefs, and fish species. The utilization and development of these marine and fishery resources had been constrained by inadequate laws and the government’s lack of focused attention.
In 1975, all laws and decrees affecting fisheries were revised and consolidated under Presidential Decree No. 704. However, the country’s fishery resources have been degraded, if not completely destroyed, by pollution, illegal fishing, and by the use of fishing methods which irreversibly harm natural marine and fresh water habitats. Among the major causes of degradation, overfishing deserves the most attention. This overexploitation of traditional fishing grounds inevitably resulted to a decline in their productivity.
We wonder what happened to a Senate bill creating a Department of Fisheries and which seeks to protect and conserve the country’s fishery and aquatic resources within sustainable limits for the exclusive enjoyment of Filipinos. The bill also sought to accelerate the integrated development of the fishery industry, and protect the rights of small and subsistence fisherfolk and fish workers to preferential use of such resources.
We want to ensure sufficient food supply to millions of Filipinos through the protection of the vast potentials of Philippine fisheries. As an island nation, we necessarily depend on our fishery resources for food. It’s a matter of survival, really. Fish used to be among the cheapest sources of protein for Filipinos but now, some fish products are even more expensive than pork or chicken! Unbelievable.