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(From left) Cebu Provincial Environment and Management Office (Pemo) head Baltazar Tribunalo Jr., representing Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III; Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr., Fisheries Undersecretary and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) National Director Eduardo Gongona, and Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. sign the covenant for the protection and conservation of the Visayan Sea. CANDEZE MONGAYA/OCEANA

BFAR director, governors sign pact to guard Visayan Sea

Governors and mayors from the Visayas have committed to restore the Visayan Sea, one of the richest fishing grounds in the Philippines, and protect it from illegal commercial and destructive fishing, it was learned recently. 

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Director Eduardo Gongona recently signed the covenant of commitment and cooperation for the protection and conservation of the Visayan Sea with Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr., and Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III, who was represented by Provincial Environment and Management Office (Pemo) head Baltazar Tribunalo Jr.

“Our goal is to be food-sufficient and, later on, to be a food-exporting country. We have to protect and develop our marine resources, especially for food security, to feed millions of people. This is a challenge, but we can do it. If we do our job together, (in) strong partnership with local government units (LGUs), we can achieve more,” Gongona said during a governors’ meeting on Sicogon Island in Carles town, Iloilo province, on July 22, 2017.

Bounded by the provinces of Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Cebu, and Masbate, the Visayan Sea hosts a variety of high-value species, such as tuna, herring, mackerel, blue swimming crab, and sardines. However, scientists have reported a steady decline in seafood supply from the 1980s onward, due mostly to the prevalence of blast fishing, as well as the encroachment of trawls, purse seines, and ring nets in municipal waters.

BFAR, LGUs, and stakeholders will craft a fisheries-management framework plan, with the bureau committing to declare the Visayan Sea as a Fisheries-managed Area (FMA), probably the first to be declared as such under the provisions of the newly amended Fisheries Code, or Republic Act 10654.

As an FMA, the Visayan Sea will have a management framework for enforcement activities, establish reference points for major fish species, and convene a science research group for the monitoring of fish stocks.

BFAR also committed to provide a dedicated monitoring control and surveillance (MCS) vessel for the Visayan Sea to strengthen seaborne patrolling and the enforcement of fisheries laws.

“This is very much appreciated, because the mere presence of these vessels will act as a strong deterrent to illegal fishing activities in the Visayan Sea,” Marañon said.

Defensor was joined by several mayors from Iloilo and called the defenders of the Visayan Sea as the Visayan Sea Guardians.

The event was also participated in by advocates led by lawyer Tony Oposa, who said the core group composed of BFAR, LGUs, and non-governmental organizations created a 500-day action plan to start seaborne patrols, scientific research, and information campaigns in the area.

“We are the center of the center of marine biodiversity on Earth, and the Visayan Sea is our geographical heart. It is the crown jewel of the Earth’s natural resources, and a common heritage for humankind,” Oposa said.

He said the MCS vessel will help fast-track seaborne patrol and information dissemination on fisheries laws in the area.

Global marine-conservation group Oceana emphasized the need for law enforcement in the Visayan Sea and the implemention of vessel-monitoring measures and the banning of active gear, among them bottom trawling, in municipal waters.

“The Visayan Sea is an important traditional source of fish, not just for the Visayas, but for the whole country. It is an ecosystem complete with all major marine habitats— from mangrove forests, seagrass beds, (and) coral reefs to pelagic habitats. It is our shared responsibility to ensure sustainable management of one of our richest fishing grounds,” lawyer and Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Estenzo Ramos said.

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