OpinionsEnvironment ConnectionSustained management is needed

Sustained management is needed

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Many people are asking why the Philippines, which is situated in the center of the world’s marine biodiversity, is suffering from rapidly declining fisheries.

One would expect that the country’s diverse marine ecosystems known to have high productivity would provide sufficient fishery resources to support the human population.

Indeed, our research shows that coral reef fisheries are resilient, except when highly destructive fishing methods are used. This leads us to inquire into the causes of this state of affairs.

It is known that the country compared to our neighbor Thailand, which is similar to the Philippines in terms of land area and natural resources, has a larger population growth rate.

The result is that the Philippines has a much larger population than Thailand. This larger population exerts a larger pressure on the resources compared to Thailand.

One result of this larger population has been the rapid expansion of fisheries. The fisheries have also been under increasing pressure from international market demands. Live fish are being exported to other Asian nations with expanding economies.

The local and international market demands are the major drivers of the heavy exploitation of fisheries, often with the use of illegal and/or destructive fishing techniques (e.g., dynamite blasting, chemical poisons, muro-ami drive-in technique) that destroy the benthic environment such as corals.

Thus, the productive marine habitats of the country are being degraded, posing a threat to food security of the people.

Despite the support of funding agencies such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the USAID, the ability of local, regional and national governments to fully manage Philippine marine resources has been limited. This is often due to lack of political will and the failure to invest local funds for resource management to sustain management effort after the initial financial support of development agencies has ceased.

Most management efforts at the local, regional and national levels are short-lived.

Thus, coastal and marine ecosystems and marine biodiversity continue to degrade and poverty levels in coastal areas continue to persist.

It has been shown by research that recovery of depleted marine fisheries takes decades (not years) of protection and management.

So efforts at rehabilitation of depleted fisheries and degraded marine habitats must be sustained for long periods of time, and government must invest resources for management after the withdrawal of foreign support. What has happened is that government has failed to provide the needed support for sustained management and protection.

Even if funds were available, the mechanisms of management are problematic.

Take for example coral reef fisheries, the only regulations that exist are bans or limitations on certain techniques of fishing that are destructive to the benthic habitats such as explosives, muro-ami drive-in net, bottom trawl, and use of cyanide on coral reefs. No limits are imposed on volume of catch, fishing effort, or sizes of fish landed — the traditional methods used in developed nations. Even in developed nations, these control mechanisms are less than impressive, and on a global scale overexploitation of fisheries resources remains rife. It is no wonder that fishery scientists have concluded that global fisheries are in serious trouble.

One mechanism of marine conservation and fisheries management that has a proven record of acceptance among coastal peoples of the Philippines is the implementation of coral reef no-take marine reserves.

No-take marine reserves are areas of the marine environment fully protected from various forms of human or extractive exploitation, such as fishing.

A major reason for the acceptance is that no-take marine reserves can deliver, often rapidly, financial benefits to local fishing communities through tourism receipts.

Another reason is their positive visible effects on fish abundance after a period of time. With the adoption of programs on integrated coastal and marine resources management recently, no-take marine reserves has become the central essential feature of this comprehensive management approach.

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