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A SAD “FISH STORY”

BOTH THE WWF AND THE UNITED NATIONS agree that the 70% of the world’s fish stock has been fished to its limit or overfished. The World Fish Center concurs fish has been hunted 30% above its ability to replenish.

Fishing is almost done in wanton abandon everywhere -with little protection of the fish habitat and the absence of very few “no fish zones”. There is so much demand for fish that countries have subsidized their fishing fleet- as they say, too many boats chasing a dwindling fish population. Do we have a reducing supply of fish in the world?

In the Philippines, the BFAR ( Bureau of Fisheries and Aquacultural Resources) confirm that 10 of the 13 so-called fishing grounds in the Philippines have been “overfished”.

Often less discussed are the “silent” competition for fish as their meals: whales, dolphins, and porpoises. And lest we forget the giant China with billions of mouths to feed.

You see, the tussle at the South China Sea area is not just about oil underneath the sand-though there are tons upon tons there. But fish. In that area alone, China has 3.7 million Chinese workers in the fish industry -and driving many other nation claimant-citizens scampering for safety -for fear of China.

The worst thing about it, according to the University of Miami findings, is that the man-made islands installed by China in the area have resulted in the destruction of 16,200 hectares of coral reefs, the natural sanctuary of fish and other marine life.

But the humongous need of the Chinese for fish protein can be exemplified by the fact that its overseas fishing fleet has 2,600 vehicles -employing 14 million Chinese- and reach as far as the seawaters of Africa.

This is not surprising as China as bruted to consume about 34% of the world’s fish supply.

The growing scarcity- and thus the increasing price of fish, is true in many Asian nations wherein having fish on the table is already a “luxury” for many of their poor. Many times, even meat has become less expensive than fish.

So severe is the lack of fresh fish, that in highly-populated countries like Indonesia and the Philippines- the canned sardines and tuna are a daily fare on many dining tables of the people.

According to BFAR, as early as 2011, there were already close to 69,000 fishing boats here, mostly of the small fisher folks type- which weighs 3 gross tons and less. The popular catch has been the tulingan, dilis, galunggong, tamban and tambakon.

The dwindling fish supply punishes the poor fisher folks the most. Their 15- kilometer allowable fishing grounds have often been taken over by big-time trawl fishers, who bribe local LGUs to grant them permits to fish in abandon in those restricted areas.

Thus half of the fish supply is cornered by 1% of the big-time fish operators. It used to be in the 1970’s that the fisherfolks could easily fetch 20 kilograms of fish per day which has been reduced today to a mere 4.76 kilograms a day.

Ten years back, a father-and-son fish team could earn P1,000 a day and still have some fish for home. Today, he does not only borrow for his working capital daily- but it takes longer and they bring in less fish compared to per day a decade ago.

There are a lot of villains in this tragedy. The illegal forms of fishing like using dynamite, payao (light to attract fish), trawlers, and fishnets with holes that are less than 2 centimeters (capturing even the young fish). Other Filipinos live in dwellings above the sea and throw their garbage alongside many tourists and coastal area folks. Waste absorb by the sea makes it more acidic.

An early 1998 study already showed that only 5% of our corals are totally free from bottles, plastics, and other wrappers. Such a tragedy. Man is its own worst enemy, in this regard.

Imagine that while the Philippines only has 10 million hectares of land suitable for agriculture, we have 220 million hectares of territorial waters and 17,000 kilometers of coastline. That should have made out country a “fish country” and with a developed aquaculture.

Statistics disprove this. Consider that as of 2015, the Philippines only exported US$473-M of fish compared to Vietnam’s $4.3B, Indonesia’s $2.7-B and Thailand’s $1.7-B. Why?

And even with that fish export numbers, why are the fisherfolks one of the poorest of the poor in the country earning only P178/day even those along the coastal towns? And there are 1.7 million of them, laments senator- gentleman farmer Kiko Pangilinan.

He says we have the capability to become a “superpower” in the fishing and marine life industry. He cannot understand the Philippines’ pervasive poverty when one sees that France has developed its Oyster mollusks industry alone into a P32-B business affair, the US lobster industry at P42-B and even lowly Bangladesh shrimps fetch $476-M in the export market.

How come, once again, we are laggards in an environment so vast and rich in marine resources.

Lack of financing, storage facilities, manufacturing capabilities, packing prowess, environmental abuse. Illegal fishing and general lack of managerial direction from the Government have been cited as few of the many drawbacks we face.

Until we get our act together and government teams up with the private sector, every year we will still tell the same sad fish story even as the foreigners -ask us with raised eyebrows how we can justify our “unexplained poverty.”

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