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DA-BFAR ENFORCES MONTH-LONG SEABORNE OPERATIONS IN THE VISAYAN SEA

The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) caps off its month-long seaborne mission in the Visayan Sea during a culmination ceremony on May 6, 2019 at Culasi Port in Roxas City, Capiz.

From April 1 to April 30 this year, DA-BFAR’s law enforcement personnel from regions 5, 6 and 7 have teamed up with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group to safeguard and patrol the Visayan Sea and its adjacent waters against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.

DA-BFAR’s national director Eduardo Gongona directs these efforts as part of the government’s pledge to achieve food security which can only happen when the seas are free from destructive activities.

"We are all aware that IUU fishing undermines the sustainability of our marine resources. Through this intensified seaborne operations to enforce fishery laws, we will be able to bring back sustainability and improve our fisheries production,” he said.

DA-BFAR utilized two 30-meter MCS Patrol Vessels and one 50-meter Multi-Mission Offshore Vessel during sea operations across the 14, 000 square kilometer-vast Visayan Sea. Reports from BFAR offices in regions 5, 6 and 7 recorded a total of 30 violators where common violations include unathorized fishing, unreported and unregulated fishing, use of active gear in municipal waters, ban on destructive gears, use of unlicensed gear and employment of unlicensed fishworkers.

The agency notes a decrease in the number of apprehensions which the DA-BFAR chief attributes to the incessant efforts of the government’s law enforcement entities.

"Based on the data we gathered from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or VIIRS Night Light Boat Detection, there was a noted decrease in the number of vessels detected in the Visayan Sea from March to April, which may mean illegal fishing activities inside the municipal waters were deterred with the presence of our vessels in the Visayan Sea,” Gongona said.

Visayan Sea: A Fisheries Management Area

A major fishing ground in the Philippines, the Visayan Sea, is shared by 33 municipalities and cities of Bicol region, Western Visayas and Central Visayas. Its wide and varied marine habitats which include 40 square kilometers of mangrove forests, 59 square kilometers of seagrass beds and 789 square kilometers of coral reefs support a high concentration of diverse and important marine life. Data from BFAR Region 6, however, reveals a decline of fish biomass in the said waters from 1940’s up to the present which could be a result of unsustainable fishing practices.

With the passing of Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 263 or the Establishment of Fisheries Management Areas (FMA) for the Conservation and Management of Fisheries in Philippine Waters, the Visayan Sea, along with other important fishing grounds in country, now has better chances at being sustainably protected and managed.

"The Visayan Sea was eyed since few years back to be the Philippine’s very first fisheries management area or FMA considering its importance as a fishing ground that needs serious measures against IUU fishing,” Gongona said.

DA-BFAR banks on multi-sectoral collaborations especially with the local government units surrounding Visayan sea, fisheries stakeholders, private sector and other relevant institutions for the conservation and management policy to be successful.

With the inclusion of the Visayan Sea as one of the FMAs nationwide, DA-BFAR sees better and coordinated management of the country’s fisheries resources. Along with other coastal resource management programs such as the Malinis at Masaganang Karagatan: The Search for the Country’s Outstanding Coastal Community, the agency strategically devises policies that will address core challenges in fisheries, not only in the Visayan sea but also in all of the country’s major fishing grounds.