Law enforcers also behind illegal fishing in Lingayen Gulf
There must be something about the coastal town of San Fabian in Pangasinan which attracts tourists, beach lovers, sea creatures and even unscrupulous fishermen.
All are welcome, Mayor Constante Agbayani said, except fishermen who come with illegal fishing gear, explosives and other destructive means to catch fish that abound in the town’s waters.
Beachgoers and tourists are lured by the calm and shallow water while sea creatures, like whale sharks (butanding), regularly come to graze whenever the Lingayen Gulf is teeming with tiny fish and shrimps.
San Fabian, some 220 kilometers north of Metro Manila, is gifted with a sea where sea grasses thrive and which serves as breeding ground for marine animals.
These sea grasses provide another livelihood for residents who gather and sell these to manufacturers of animal feed, cosmetics, food or medicine.
But the marine resources are threatened by fishermen who have no qualms about destroying the marine environment for a quick cash.
Ridding the town of illegal activities is a big challenge that local officials and law enforcers face.
Last month, Agbayani met with fishermen suspected to be behind blast fishing to order them to stop the illegal activity. “I told them that they will be arrested as soon as they reach the shore,” he said.
But the Lingayen Gulf is a “free-for-all” zone, with fishermen from other provinces encroaching on fishing grounds of towns facing the gulf.
Worse, some of their activities are bankrolled by police and military officials, some of them retired and some in active service, according to a police official from San Fabian.
The official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the information, said a retired police official from nearby Rosario town in La Union used to operate three trawl fishing boats.
Trawling is considered destructive because fishing nets that are dragged by fishing boats catch even small fish and hit and damage corals.
While trawls may be expensive, explosives used to blast fish are easy to make and the materials are readily available. Some fishermen themselves manufacture explosives and would teach anyone who cares to learn.
The illegal fishers may not be armed but they can use the explosive to threaten law enforcers, Nestor Domenden, Ilocos regional director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), said.
He cited an experience of a BFAR law enforcement team that tried to seize a boat used for illegal fishing in Ilocos Norte but was instead threatened with the explosives.
The team was able to take photographs of the boat, its occupants and the explosives. The boat was registered under the BoatR, a registration system of the BFAR of all fishing vessels.
“What we need are law enforcers who won’t succumb to temptations, and more resources like speed boats [so we can stop illegal activities at sea],” said Agbayani.
Illegal fishers avoided San Fabian when the Philippine Navy patrolled its coastline in 2013. However, illegal activities resumed at sea when the Navy personnel stopped patrols.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is planning to establish a station in the town, with the local government donating a 200-square meter lot for the purpose. The PCG, however, does not have a boat to go after vessels used for illegal fishing.
What to do
“What should be done is to gather all the blasted fish so the fishermen would return to nothing,” Domenden said. “Do this for five months and they would have no income, no money to buy gasoline for their boats and may stop these activities.”
The BFAR Ilocos has 10 new boats to patrol the Lingayen Gulf and parts of the West Philippine Sea, according to Domenden. The BFAR teams, however, cannot arrest illegal fishermen unless they are accompanied by the police.
Visibility of law enforcers would help in stopping illegal fishing, Domenden said, citing statements from fishermen that when BFAR’s patrol boats are in a particular area, they would not dare use illegal means to fish.
On the day the BFAR held a meeting at the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA)-San Fabian Beach Resort facing the gulf, Domenden said not one explosion was heard by the resort’s staff.
“There’s a patrol boat in the area, that’s why,” he said.
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