Sustaining Our Fisheries Resources

Article excerpt

Byline: Educators Speak:Dolores Baja Lasan

THE Philippines is richly endowed with fisheries resources in our more than two million square kilometers of marine waters and 750,000 hectares of inland waters. There are over 10,000 species of vertebrates, invertebrates and plants found in our waters.

The term "fisheries" includes "all activities relating to the act or business of fishing, culturing, preserving, processing, marketing, developing, conserving and managing of aquatic resources." Administratively, it is classified into commercial fisheries, municipal fisheries and aquaculture.

"Commercial fisheries" refers to fishing in marine waters beyond municipal waters with boats of more than three gross tons. "Municipal fisheries" involves fishing in coastal and inland waters with or without boats of three gross tons or less. "Aquaculture" is the breeding and growing of fish and other species in water.

The catch of commercial fishers mainly consists of roundscad (galunggong), Indian sardines

(tamban) and tunas. The bulk of municipal catch is made up of big-eyed scad (matang baka), frigate tuna (tulingan), roundscad and Indian mackerel (alumahan). Seaweeds, milkfish, tilapia and shrimp are the main produce from aquaculture.

In 2003, the Philippines produced 3,369,564 metric tons of fisheries products, 30.7 percent of which was from commercial fishing, 29.1 percent from municipal fishing and 40.2 percent from aquaculture.

The country ranked 12th in world fisheries production. It was the second largest producer of seaweeds and was fourth in global aquaculture.

Fish and fishery products are an important part of the Filipino diet, making up more than 12 percent of the total food consumed. Two-thirds of the animal protein requirement of our people is provided by fish. With population growth and changes in lifestyle and food preference, per capita consumption of fish in the country dropped from 36 kg/yr in 1993 to 28.5 kg/yr in 1997.

Despite the apparent abundance of fish supply in the country, however, there are ominous signs of threats to the sustainability of our fisheries resources. The catch of fisheries stocks in many traditional fishing grounds reached the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) in the l990s. MSY is the highest volume of catch beyond which a fishery stock can no longer replenish itself. Fishing at a level above the MSY results in biological and economic overfishing. This means that overfished areas will eventually become depleted and fishers will suffer negative economic returns.

A study conducted on the demersal (deep water) fisheries stocks of the country in l986 showed that overfishing reduced the potential maximum yield by 30 percent compared to the level of fish stocks in the 1940s, and that fishing effort should be reduced by 60 percent to obviate the annual loss of US$130 million representing the value of the potential stocks that could have been harvested at normal levels.

For the small pelagic (surface dwelling) fisheries which comprise more than 40 percent of our marine catch, the biological and economic overfishing is even more critical. Fishing effort in the mid-l980s was more than 200 percent of that for maintaining the MSY and the estimated economic loss was US$290 million yearly.

Concomitant to overfishing is the degradation of aquatic ecosystems which economically-exploited species depend on for their support. The use of destructive fishing methods like muro-ami and blast fishing has wrought extensive and irreparable damage to coral reefs. The massive denudation of mangroves for logging and fishpond construction has also contributed to the decline in the productivity of our coastal waters. …