Netting progress, hope: BFAR launches project to aid WPS fisherfolk
MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has launched a project that seeks to improve livelihood opportunities for fisherfolk in the area of the West Philippine Sea (WPS), who time and again cope with harassment from Chinese vessels.
At a news forum on Saturday, BFAR chief information officer Nazario Briguera explained that the Livelihood Activities to Enhance Fisheries Yield and Economic Gains from the West Philippine Sea (Layag WPS) project would cover beneficiaries from provinces in the Ilocos, Central Luzon, and Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) regions that face the body of water.
Briguera added that under the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone, the West Philippine Sea will have fuel subsidies, new fishing tools and postharvest equipment, and other livelihood programs.
According to a BFAR official, Layag WPS could improve the Philippines’ fish supply since 373,733 fishermen relied on the West Philippine Sea as of January.
Provisions to Pag-asa
According to Briguera, Layag WPS initially benefited Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in Kalayaan, contributing only 6% of the country’s fisheries productivity in 2022.
Briguera and other BFAR personnel left for Pag-asa from Palawan on June 12 on board the BRP Francisco Dagohoy and stayed there until June 16.
He said Pag-asa fishermen received P5 million worth of livelihood assistance from fishing-related tools and equipment, including 30-foot fiberglass boats, blast freezers, and fishing paraphernalia.
They also provided fishers with postharvest equipment, ensuring that the fishermen could preserve their catch and even engage in food-processing activities.
Rain catchers were also delivered to the island by BFAR as part of an initiative started by the agency.
For the people of Pag-asa Island, rain catchers are vital because of the area’s limited supply of fresh water.
‘Rich in resources’
Asked if the agency’s intervention would be felt in the markets through lower fish prices, he replied: “Definitely. Our seas are rich in resources. And if our fishermen have adequate support to fish, they will continue to contribute to our economy and they will ensure that every Filipino family will have fish to eat on their table.”
He said that the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) estimated the value of fisheries resources in the West Philippine Sea at “billions of pesos.”
Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Briguera said fish production from the West Philippines Sea slightly decreased to 275,872 metric tons (MT) in 2022 from 295,332 MT the previous year.
He reiterated that typhoons and other weather disturbances that prevented fishermen from going to sea could be one of the factors for the decline in output.
He also noted that fish production data for 2021 and 2022 did not provide a direct attribution of whether the “geopolitical situation” in the West Philippines Sea was a contributing factor.
Still, he said fish production in the area could have been higher if there was no maritime territorial dispute in the area.
“Whatever the hindering factors are happening [there] now if these are gone, it means that we will better harness the resources of the West Philippine Sea,” Briguera said.
He mentioned that 2019 UPMSI data showed an estimated loss of P33.1 billion per year for the Philippines due to Chinese reclamation activities and poaching, which destroy fish habitats and coral reefs in the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
He added that accessibility was a concern for the West Philippine Sea Task Force, of which BFAR is a member, under President Marcos’ administration’s whole-of-government approach, while the PCG reported that a Chinese Navy vessel followed the BFAR ship, which carried Briguera and his group, some 11 kilometers (6 nautical miles) off Pag-asa just last week.
The Type 054A frigate with bow No. 549 of the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) came as close to a nautical mile from the PCG-manned ship.
The two ships exchanged radio challenges and the Filipino vessel asserted that it was sailing within the island’s territorial waters.
The Chinese ship stopped following the Philippine vessel when they were around 18.5 kilometers (10 nautical miles) from the island.