Combatting illegal fishing in Palawan’s Calamianes

Keith Anthony Fabro
Combatting illegal fishing in Palawan’s Calamianes

Rappler

Left unaddressed, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing would continue to wreak havoc in the Calamianes, whose coastal and marine ecosystems are among the most diverse and extensive in the Philippines

PALAWAN, Philippines – With its combined municipal waters as vast as over 1 million hectares, keeping illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) at bay remains a challenge in the Calamian Island Group (CIG), one of the Philippines’ richest fishing grounds. 

To turn the tide on IUUF and other illegal human activities threatening this biodiverse island group in northern Palawan, the Calamianes Resilience Network (CRN) convened for an environmental law enforcement summit on October 10 to 11 in Coron, Palawan. Through the support of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Fish Right program, the summit aimed at revitalizing and sustaining enforcement efforts in the Calamianes.

“Despite all of our collective efforts, the destruction of our environment continues,” CRN chairperson Fernando Lopez said.

Formed in 2017 after the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda, CRN is a multisectoral network with 43 members, including local government units, national government agencies, civil society and nongovernmental organizations, academe, and private companies.

Lopez said the CIG’s growing population and high poverty incidence at 60.57% drive overexploitation, specifically of their fisheries resources. Currently, the island group has a population of over 110,000. The continuous influx of tourists to Coron, Busuanga, Linapacan, and Culion that make up the CIG is also seen to compound the problem.

Economic loss

Left unaddressed, IUUF – which includes the use of illegal fishing gears – would continue to wreak havoc in the Calamianes, whose coastal and marine ecosystems are among the most diverse and extensive in the Philippines. According to the USAID, its coral reefs comprising 36% of the Philippines’ total coral cover are still in good condition. 

John Law, deputy chief of mission of the US Embassy in the Philippines, noted that “the Philippines loses almost P70 billion from IUUF,” a pressing issue which, he added, “threatens security and stability, enables corruption and fosters violence” in the country. 

Its impacts could hardly hit the Calamianes where the families of over 19,000 fisherfolk heavily rely on the healthy sea for a living.

“Environmental crimes take a toll on your country’s marine ecosystems. And a large portion of these is the IUUF, an increasingly concerning phenomenon, ranging from unlawful activities of small-scale domestic fishing to more complex operations carried out by industrial fishing fleets,” Law said.

The US government through the 5-year USAID Fish Right program has invested P1.3 billion to support the sustainable use of critical coastal and marine resources in 3 sites in the Philippines, including the Visayan Sea and South Negros, which are also under pressure due to IUUF. 

Government response 

Fisheries Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona assured that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has not given up the fight against IUUF.

“It is among the priorities of the national government to eliminate IUUF, overfishing, coastal habitat destruction, and other threats to the sustainability of coastal and marine resources,” he said. 

The BFAR director added that they are “beefing up our fleet of law enforcement vessels, and strengthening cooperation with the Philippine Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies, especially the Philippine National Police (PNP) Maritime Group.”

PNP Maritime Group Director R’win Pagkalinawan reported that his 2nd Special Operations Unit in Palawan had launched over 100 anti-IUUF apprehensions from October 2018 to September 2019, the majority of which occurred in the Calamianes.

Pagkalinawan cited a dynamite fishing case in Coron last June to underscore the need to strengthen environmental law enforcement in the Calamianes.

“It’s Coron and yet there’s this dynamite fishing. That means our enforcement here is not that strong. It appears we need a healthy interaction to teach our people that this is a tourism destination, not an illegal fishing destination,” he said. 

The PNP Maritime Group chief urged the fishing communities to tap the Calamianes’ 11 maritime police. He also added that they are waiting for the arrival of 22 high-speed tactical boats by March 2020, one of which will be deployed to their Coron station to go after fisheries law violators, especially on the high seas. 

Tech-based solution

Rollan Geronimo, USAID Fish Right’s IUUF specialist, said they are “moving towards increasing compliance rather than put a lot of effort into hard enforcement,” which they do “through teaching communities and giving them access to resources so they can participate in the management process itself.”

He added that they are “trying to come up with a system or a tool that can synthesize information and assess where are we on the level of IUUF.”

“One of the issues here is the reporting itself is weak, so it’s hard to assess right now the status of IUUF here. The situation is not clear. There were reports but those were the ones we apprehended. We don’t know how many are left there that we haven’t apprehended yet.”

Geronimo of the Marine Environment Resources Foundation, a non-profit under the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute, added that they are particularly looking at introducing the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) and other satellite-derived information like high-resolution images that can show vessels to guide enforcement groups. 

VIIRS is a satellite sensor used to detect fishing boats that harness night lights to lure fish. It is especially helpful in knowing the location of commercial fishing vessels that use superlight with more than 1,000 watts and encroach in the municipal waters, which is prohibited by law. 

“The assistance of USAID Fish Right is more on science, technology, and innovation. For example, access to satellite information using data analytics to identify the hotspots,” Geronimo added.

“It’s not just a technology, it’s also a system of integrating information from different sources and synthesizing them to provide guidance to the agencies on what to prioritize and how to approach and resolve IUUF.” – Rappler.com

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