Fishing boats anchored along the Infanta fish port in Pangasinan, north of Manila, prepare for an expedition to the West Philippine Sea, May 27, 2021./ctto.

Fishing group PAMALAKAYA leader blames commercial boats for depletion of stock in territorial waters.

Restrictions in Philippine territorial waters and the open seas, along with threats from large-scale fishing operations, are the biggest issues facing subsistence fishermen in this archipelagic country of 7,100 islands, according to an organization representing them.

In recent years, governments of coastal municipalities have begun restricting their “municipal fishing grounds,” or waters up to 15 km (9 miles) from the shore, allowing only resident fishermen who register with local authorities, said Fernando Hicap, chairman of Pamalakaya, a Philippine fishermen’s organization.

“Imagine, you’re a Filipino fisherman, you’re in the Philippines, and you’re on municipal fishing grounds, but you’re sued for illegal entry. How hurtful is that? Isn’t that wrong?” Hicap told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. 

“What misery. Add to that this [COVID-19] pandemic – no one’s buying what little catch they bring home because of the lockdowns,” said Hicap, adding that fishermen have little choice but to consume their own catch, or barter them for other small goods. 

Municipalities are allowing outsiders to pay an annual fee, usually not lower than 1,000 pesos (U.S. $20) – a fee that subsistence fishermen, who use small-scale, low-technology practices, cannot afford to pay – according to Hicap’s group. Besides, it’s not feasible to register and pay fees at every coastal municipality to be able to fish in waters that have traditionally been communal to Filipinos. 

Restrictions were not an issue in past decades when there were more fish in the shallows, said Benjamin Sumaganday, a fisherman in northern Masinloc town. 

“There used to be huge catches in the past. But the population grew over the years, and we can’t afford to just stay in municipal waters,” the father of four told BenarNews. 

Meanwhile on June 5, the world will mark the fourth International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency, “IUU fishing includes many types of illicit activities, for example, fishing without a license or authorization, not reporting or misreporting catches, fishing in prohibited areas and catching or selling prohibited species, or fishing in areas not covered by a regulatory framework.” 

The Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has vowed to protect locals against such activities.

Calling on Filipinos to focus their fishing efforts in the West Philippine Sea – a region of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims as its territory – the government agency promised to boost patrols against illegal fishing put local fishers at a disadvantage.

“[W]e remain committed in our mandate to address IUU fishing in Philippine waters,” the bureau said in a news release earlier this year. (Click here to read more…)