Time to con­sider the cre­ation of a Dep’t of Fish­eries and Aquatic Re­sources

Agriculture - - Contents - BY DR. EMIL Q. JAVIER

THE RE­CENT DE­CI­SION of Pres­i­dent Duterte to re­turn the Na­tional Food Au­thor­ity (NFA), the Na­tional Ir­ri­ga­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NIA), the Philippine Co­conut Au­thor­ity (PCA), and the Fer­til­izer and Pes­ti­cide Au­thor­ity (FPA) to the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture (DA) was most wel­come news. These four agen­cies were carved out of DA dur­ing the B.S. Aquino ad­min­is­tra­tion os­ten­si­bly to re­lieve an over-bur­dened Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture, and were placed un­der the su­per­vi­sion and con­trol of a Pres­i­den­tial As­sis­tant in the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent.

Since the func­tions of these agen­cies are key com­po­nents of land-based agri­cul­ture, their sep­a­ra­tion from their sis­ter agen­cies, i.e. the Bu­reau of Plant In­dus­try (BPI), Bu­reau of An­i­mal In­dus­try (BAI), Bu­reau of Soil and Water Man­age­ment (BSWM), and Philippine Rice Re­search In­sti­tute (PhilRice) did not make sense from a co­or­di­na­tion and gov­er­nance point of view. If in fact the ra­tio­nale for sep­a­ra­tion was to re­duce the span of work and ac­count­abil­ity of the Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary, the bet­ter op­tion would have been the nat­u­ral split be­tween land­based agri­cul­ture from aquatic-based in­dus­try.

In­deed now that these ma­jor agen­cies are back with the DA where they nat­u­rally be­long, it is time to con­sider the cre­ation of a separate De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Aquatic Re­sources (DFAR) to give fish­eries and aquatic re­sources de­vel­op­ment the at­ten­tion they de­serve.

Un­for­tu­nately, sec­re­taries of agri­cul­ture are in­vari­ably drawn to the chal­lenges of the pro­duc­tion of rice, corn, co­conut, sug­ar­cane, poul­try, and live­stock leav­ing them pre­cious lit­tle time for fish­eries. The soli­tary Di­rec­tor of the Bu­reau of Fish­eries and Aquatic Re­sources (BFAR) in DA is al­most al­ways left on his own. A proper De­part­ment for fish­eries should re­dress this his­tor­i­cal over­sight.


The poor­est Filipinos among the poor are the 1.6 mil­lion house­holds of fish­er­folk and coastal dwellers who rely on fish­ing for a sig­nif­i­cant part of their food needs and in­comes. The dis­par­ity was clearly demon­strated in a sur­vey in 2000, which showed that the mean an­nual in­come of house­holds whose heads were fish­er­men was only R70,000 ver­sus R144,000 for house­holds in gen­eral.

And yet we have vast fish­eries and aquatic re­sources which we have not suf­fi­ciently tapped. While we have only 10 mil­lion hectares (ha) of lands suit­able for agri­cul­ture out of a to­tal land mass of 30 mil­lion ha, we have 220 mil­lion ha of ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters in­clud­ing our ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ), 750,000 ha of in­land wa­ters (lakes, rivers, reser­voirs) and a coast­line of 17,460 kilo­me­ters.

The fish­ing in­dus­try con­trib­uted R240 bil­lion to our econ­omy in 2015. There are three sub­sec­tors, namely 1) com­mer­cial fish­eries, 2) mu­nic­i­pal fish­eries, and 3) aqua­cul­ture, each of which con­trib­uted R65 bil­lion, R81 bil­lion, and R93 bil­lion, re­spec­tively.

Mu­nic­i­pal fish­ing is catch­ing of fish with boats weigh­ing three tons or less. Com­mer­cial fish­ing is fish­ing with boats with ton­nage in ex­cess of three tons. Coastal wa­ters within 15 kilo­me­ters from shore are re­served for small, ar­ti­sanal, mu­nic­i­pal fish­er­men.

On the other hand, ar­ti­fi­cial cul­ture of fish (aqua­cul­ture) is con­ducted in three kinds of water en­vi­ron­ments i.e. in 1) in­land fresh wa­ters, 2) coastal brack­ish wa­ters, and 3) salty marine wa­ters. Their val­ues of pro­duc­tion in 2015 were R22 bil­lion, R51 bil­lion, and R12 bil­lion, re­spec­tively. The prin­ci­pal cul­tured fish/aquatic species are milk­fish, tilapia, shrimp/prawns and sea­weeds.

Sadly, fish­eries pro­duc­tion, like most of the rest of agri­cul­ture, is de­clin­ing or at best stag­nant dur­ing the last decade. Our in­land and coastal wa­ters are de­graded and over­fished. We have not in­vested enough in mod­ern ves­sels and fish­ing gear to en­able our com­mer­cial fish­ing fleet to go far into deep wa­ters and into our EEZ and be­yond. We have not done enough to es­tab­lish fish ports with the ap­pro­pri­ate dry and cold stor­age fa­cil­i­ties to min­i­mize post har­vest losses which can go as high as 25–40 per­cent. We have not in­vested enough in aqua­cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment of fish prod­ucts that can com­pete in the world mar­ket.

The de­gree of un­der­ex­ploita­tion of our fish­eries and aquatic re­sources is most em­path­i­cally shown by our fish and fish prod­ucts ex­ports com­pared with our ASEAN neigh­bors which have far less fish­eries re­sources than we do (ex­cept In­done­sia which is archipelagic like us).

In 2015, our fish and fish pro­duc­tion ex­ports amounted to only US$ 473 mil­lion. For the same year, the fish ex­ports of Viet­nam, In­done­sia and Thai­land were US$ 4.3 bil­lion, US$ 2.6 bil­lion, and US$ 1.7 bil­lion, re­spec­tively. Con­sid­er­ing our vast fish­eries re­sources there is ab­so­lutely no rea­son we can­not aspire to ex­port US$ 2.0 bil­lion.


The new DFAR will have its hands full from Day One. Fol­low­ing are at least four very im­por­tant ini­tia­tives re­quir­ing im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion which are ob­vi­ously be­yond the ca­pac­ity of a small agency like the cur­rent BFAR, and thereby jus­tify the cre­ation of a new de­part­ment.

1. Reg­u­la­tion of Fish­ing Ef­forts and Pro­tec­tion of Fish­ery Habi­tats The ob­vi­ous most im­me­di­ate need is to ar­rest the pro­gres­sive de­cline of fish catch in our in­land wa­ters and coastal wa­ters. The fish­ing ef­forts of both com­mer­cial and mu­nic­i­pal fish­ers are be­yond sus­tain­able lev­els. We need to pro­tect and re­ha­bil­i­tate our co­ral reefs, man­groves, sea­grass, and al­gae beds, and other soft-bot­tom com­mu­ni­ties. We need to es­tab­lish more pro­tected ar­eas and sanc­tu­ar­ies where the fish may spawn and res­o­lutely en­force close fish­ing sea­sons to al­low im­ma­ture, ju­ve­nile fish to grow to mar­ketable size.

Of spe­cial con­cern are the co­ral reef ar­eas cov­er­ing 27,000 square kilo­me­ters which con­trib­ute 20 per­cent of to­tal cap­ture fish­eries. Philippine co­ral reefs are world renown for be­ing home to 533 species of corals and about 2,500 marine fish species. In com­par­i­son the world fa­mous bar­rier reef in Aus­tralia has only 350 co­ral species and 1500 fish species.

Due to wan­ton phys­i­cal de­struc­tion of co­ral reefs as well as over­fish­ing, fish abun­dance in our co­ral reef wa­ters had been es­ti­mated to have de­clined to 50-20 tons fish per square kilo­me­ter com­pared with 100 tons per square kilo­me­ter for pris­tine co­ral reefs.

Na­tional Scientist An­gel Al­cala of Sil­li­man Univer­sity es­ti­mates that only about 1,250 square kilo­me­ters or five per­cent of the to­tal co­ral reef ar­eas are cov­ered by marine sanc­tu­ar­ies. Thus, we have a long way to go to ap­proach the 15 per­cent tar­get. More­over of the ex­ist­ing marine pro­tected ar­eas (MPAs) es­tab­lished by BFAR and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment units (LGUs) and man­aged with the sup­port of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and NGOs, only 20–25 per­cent are con­sid­ered func­tion­ing ef­fec­tively. 2. In­creased Har­vest­ing in Off­shore Fish­eries Be­yond the Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf, in the EEZ Wa­ters and Be­yond We can al­le­vi­ate in­tense fish­ing pres­sure on near shore stocks and min­i­mize con­flict be­tween mu­nic­i­pal and com­mer­cial fish­ers by en­cour­ag­ing and pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives to the lat­ter to ac­quire mod­ern and fish­ing gear to en­able them to go far­ther into deep wa­ters into our EEZ and be­yond. How­ever, we need to con­duct ex­ploratory fish­ing in the EEZ wa­ters and strate­gic non-tra­di­tional fish­ing grounds to de­ter­mine their full bi­o­log­i­cal and eco­nomic po­ten­tial. By one es­ti­mate, we can har­vest as much as 200,000–300,000 met­ric tons per year from our EEZ.

3. More In­vest­ments in Aqua­cul­ture Com­pared with the aqua­cul­ture in­dus­tries in Viet­nam, In­done­sia, and Thai­land, we have a long way to go in fur­ther ex­pand­ing fish pens, fish cages and fish ponds in our lakes, rivers, reser­voirs, in coastal, brack­ish water ar­eas as well as sea-based aqua­cul­ture (mar­i­cul­ture). We need to im­prove hatch­ery and grow-out tech­nolo­gies for ex­ist­ing species and pro­vide in­vest­ment in­cen­tives to hatch­eries and brood stock farms. We need to scale up re­search and de­vel­op­ment (R&D) on bi­ol­ogy, breed­ing, fry pro­duc­tion, nu­tri­tion, cul­ture, and fish health for new species like crabs, seabass, groupers, abalone, and maybe even the Pa­cific Bluefin tuna. We need to in­vest in and de­velop more large scale mar­i­cul­ture parks, pro­vided cer­tain ar­eas are re­served for small fish­er­men and their co­op­er­a­tives. Lo­ca­tors in these mar­i­cul­ture parks can be pro­vided in­cen­tives like in ex­port pro­cess­ing zones.

4. Im­proved Fish­ery Poli­cies, Man­age­ment Sys­tems and Struc­tures There is so much up­side po­ten­tial for our fish­eries sec­tor. How­ever, in ad­di­tion to ad­dress­ing the tech­no­log­i­cal, eco­log­i­cal and eco­nomic chal­lenges, we need to have the ap­pro­pri­ate fish­eries poli­cies, man­age­ment sys­tems and in­sti­tu­tions in place. Ad­di­tional ef­forts are needed to strengthen the man­age­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties of LGUs, na­tional gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOs), and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties whose par­tic­i­pa­tion and co­op­er­a­tion are piv­otal in nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment. Bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion is needed among agen­cies for the proper en­force­ment of fish­eries rules and reg­u­la­tions.

In­con­sis­ten­cies and con­flicts in poli­cies and bu­reau­cratic ju­ris­dic­tions such as those be­tween in­ten­sive fish­eries de­vel­op­ment and en­vi­ron­ment con­ser­va­tion need to be re­solved. The brew­ing con­flict in the dis­po­si­tion of fish pens in La­guna de Bay is a case in point.


We are there­fore en­cour­aged to note that a separate de­part­ment for fish­eries en­joys broad sup­port in Congress. At least 10 bills have been filed dur­ing the cur­rent 17th Congress with the fol­low­ing au­thors: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal Ar­royo, Arthur Yap, Raul Tu­pas, Teddy Brawner Baguilat, To­m­a­sito Vil­larin, Deogra­cias Ramos, Jr., Max­imo Ro­driguez, Jr., Ben­hur Sal­im­ban­gon, Kaka Bag-ao, Rodel Ba­to­cabe, Al­fredo Garbin, and Christo­pher Co.

They have our full sup­port. We wish them well. (Reprinted from Manila Bulletin, May 12, 2018)

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