Mayors to BFAR: Protect our fishing grounds
More than 30 mayors in seaside towns around the country have opposed a proposal from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to use the coast of the mainland as a reference point in the delineation of municipal waters, saying this would limit the fishing ground devoted to small fishermen.
While this may speed up the country’s economic recovery through a considerable increase in fisheries production when commercial vessels are given a larger area, local governments and industry groups are worried that this will rob small-scale fishers of their livelihood, and may also lead to the destruction of several marine resources, including corals and mangroves.
This is especially alarming for coastal communities that have offshore islands. For instance, the municipality of Cuyo in Palawan province stands to lose about 85 percent of its municipal waters once the BFAR guideline is passed.
“Using the mainland as the reference of delineation will drastically reduce the area of our municipal waters and open these to commercial fishers,” said Mayor Mary Jean Te of Libertad, Antique province. “This would negatively affect our small fisherfolk and their livelihood, especially now that they have become even more vulnerable than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic hit all of us.”
A resolution opposing the new guideline was passed in a recent online forum by 32 mayors from the provinces of Leyte, Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Northern Samar, Bataan, Surigao del Sur, Cebu, Capiz, Sarangani, Iloilo, Aurora, Misamis Oriental, Lanao del Norte, Pampanga, Laguna, Quezon, Surigao del Norte, Negros Occidental, Guimaras, Palawan, Capiz and Antique, and the cities of Cagayan de Oro and General Santos.
The petition was submitted to the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council, which is deliberating the proposed rules of delineation.
The mayors urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the BFAR to allow them to treat waters between their islands as one management unit, where their fish sanctuaries, marine reserves and managed access areas form as integral parts of their jurisdiction.
“It would also affect current local government initiatives and policy issuances in managing our municipal waters, as accorded to us by the local government code. We strongly urge the DA-BFAR to initiate a more transparent and participatory consultation, in coordination with the League of Cities [of the Philippines] and [League of] Municipalities [of the Philippines] and the Department of the Interior and Local Government,” the resolution said.
A study by the nongovernment group Oceana showed that almost 30 local governments could lose more than 50 percent of their municipal waters, leaving offshore island communities at the mercy of commercial fishers.
Cuyo in Palawan tops the list with 85 percent of its municipal waters to be considered as national waters. Other areas that may be threatened included Culasi in Antique (84 percent) and Vinzons in Camarines Norte (82 percent).
Agriculture Secretary William Dar has yet to decide on the resolution, said Noel Reyes, DA spokesperson. He noted that the secretary had commissioned a science-based review of the proposal.
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