Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Philippines: Saving the Fish for Another Day
July 2007

By Cezar Tigno ADB Web Writer SAFEGUARDING THE SEA, SAVING THE FISH PANGASINAN , PHILIPPINES Bienvenido Caasi, 62, considers himself lucky. After years of engaging in dynamite fishing, he still has all his fingers intact. Other fishermen are not as lucky. Mr. Caasi is no longer into dynamite fishing these days but he still lives just as dangerously. As member of the "Bantay Dagat" (sea patrol volunteer), he is on guard against commercial fishing boats from other towns engaged in illegal forms of fishing in his village in Macaleeng, Anda. The death threats he gets do not faze him. "I was just following the others," he said. "People from other towns would come here and fish illegally. We knew we were breaking the law but it was easy for us to get out of it. But I realized there was no future in this. Dynamite fishing was destroying the corals and the small fish were dying. So this is my way of paying back what I destroyed." Mr. Caasi heads the Macaleeng Samahang Multi-Sectoral ng Barangay, which is responsible for guarding the 48.5 hectare Panacalan Island Fish Sanctuary in his town. Ben and his men guard the sanctuary in support of the government through local laws formulated with the Fisheries Resource Management Project (FRMP). Ben and his group also serve as tourist guides to visitors. The project provided them the boat, binoculars, and communications equipment for their patrol duties. Nowadays, Mr. Caasi is still both a fisherman and a guardian of the sea. His efforts have enabled him to increase his fish catch. And this time around, his conscience is clear that he is not causing any damage to the environment. THE FISHERIES RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PROJECT (FRMP) Fisheries are a main source of livelihood for over a million Filipinos. The Philippines has one of the world's richest biogeographic areas with a wide diversity of marine life. It is a natural fishing ground with 150 million hectares of marine waters surrounding its 7,107 islands with its 17,640 kilometers of coastline. The FRMP is tasked to reverse the trend of declining fisheries resources in municipal waters - the area within 15 kilometers of the shore - caused by overfishing and destructive fishing using dynamite, cyanide and fine mesh nets. The project is being implemented in 18 out of the 26 priority bays around the country, in 100 municipal communities and cities in 11 out of 15 coastal regions and 23 provinces. Anda, enriched by Lingayen Gulf, belongs to one of two provinces being covered by the FRMP in the Ilocos Region. It is a six-year project being implemented by the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and funded by ADB and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. The project began in 1998 and builds on the Government's Fisheries Sector Program approved in the early 1990s, which was also made possible through ADB assistance. LIVELIHOOD PARTNERSHIPS AS ALTERNATIVES TO FISHING The project boasts of successfully increasing production of municipal fisheries by an annual average of 2.64% since 1999. Enhanced habitats have resulted in the improvement in the volume of fish catch and its sizes; certain species that have stayed away after years of destructive fishing have even returned. The project encourages small-scale fisherfolk to seek alternative forms of livelihood such as seaweed culture, milkfish deboning, fish drying, and grouper culture to augment their income from fishing. As of May 2005, a total of 217 livelihood projects have been provided to about 6,619 beneficiaries. Non-government organizations help fisherfolk form self-help groups, mobilize savings, develop small businesses and rehabilitate and manage fisheries resources.

One such partnership between a livelihood center and a town is in San Fabian, Pangasinan. Mayor Mojamito Libunao strongly supports the bangus deboning and smoking project by marketing the end-product: "It is something that we should support first because the capital investment is not so much," he says. "A large part of the investment is in educating and instructing the beneficiaries. And these are beneficiaries who really need the additional income." CAPACITY BUILDING FOR COASTAL COMMUNITIES The project also strengthened the capacity of government agencies in managing their fisheries resources at the local level. Seventy-two coastal communities have drafted their municipal coastal resource management (CRM) plans while 876 barangays have prepared their own plans. The CRM implementation of the project becomes the responsibility of the communities and local government units (LGUs). As a sign of the project's high credibility and success among local folk, even non-FRMP areas have adapted ordinances of nearby towns. FRMP Project Director Jessica Munoz stressed "Before we start the project, we sign agreements with LGUs where they commit to the project and provide counterpart funding. So they have a stake here too," she says. “We expect the LGUs to continue with the activities even after the project funding has ended since this becomes part of their regular planning and activities." The project has established a Fisherfolk Registration Database, now deployed to 80 municipalities; a Fisheries Information Management System, which supports regulatory, licensing and law enforcement; and decisionmaking functions in fisheries. It captures the number of fisherfolk, gear, vessel used, and landed catch. ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS CAMPAIGN FOR FISHERFOLK The project's informationeducationcommunication (IEC) campaign promotes awareness and community participation. Barangay Learning and Resource Centers have been established in major coastal regions. Many local government units have been trained by FRMP staff and are now producing their own information materials in their own dialect. The BFAR-FRMP website, which gives out important fisheries information, is an equally popular information tool, averaging 20,000 to 35,000 hits per month. Some municipalities are using FRMP's databases for their operations.

Ms. Munoz says "Fisheries management is basically a change in attitude in people. Before, fishermen are used to taking resources for themselves," she adds. "It is difficult to tell them not to get too much out of these resources so we had to conduct a massive information campaign among the fishermen and schoolchildren." "FRMP has been of great assistance to us ever since it started in terms of education and training," says Mayor Gabriel Navarro of Bani town who fiercely protects his town's mangrove rehabilitated area, even at the risk of his own reelection last year. "More people are now aware of environmental concerns especially in the protection of our marine resources." STRICT SEA PATROL: GUARDING FISH FOR THE FUTURE The project also has a community-based carrot-and-stick approach to law enforcement, specifically in sea patrol. Mr. Caasi is only one of a total of 1,174 persons who have been trained on fisheries law enforcement under FRMP. Not all apprehensions, however, end up in courts since sea patrols try to resolve disputes at the barangay level and rarely reach the courts. “There is a very significant improvement in terms of apprehension of people who are continuously violating the law," notes Regional Director Nestor Dumenden of BFAR. The need to protect Pangasinan's marine resources has never been as important as today when it is now actively promoting its once-famous Hundred Islands back in the ecotourism map. "The objective is to maintain its natural beauty and protect the environment within that area," says Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza. Mr. Caasi's 39-year old son Harvey is also a fisherman. He only finished vocational school training and applied for employment in many offices to no avail. So he went back to the sea for a living. Harvey’s 16-year old son has completed high school and would like to pursue a college degree as a computer technician. But with meager financial resources, he will likely end up fishing for a living, like his father and grandfather. The older Caasi's are making sure the youngest Caasi still has some fish to catch, just in case he won't be able to acquire a college degree. View Photo Gallery

_______________________________ This article appeared in the 17 June 2005 issue of Business World. *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in June 2005: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.