Editor's note: This is part 2 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
One of the biggest challenges facing sustainable fishing in the Philippines is the prevalence of dynamite fishing, where fishers create an improvised bomb out of a rum or Coke bottle and ammonium sulfate. The sound wave created by the explosion stuns the fish, which float to the surface, but it also destroys corals and seagrass meadows that can take years to recover from a single blast.
Dynamite fishing has been a problem in Cortes, a town on the southern half of Lanuza Bay. There’s a lot of pressure to fish here no matter the cost, because the area produces no other local meat or fruit – everything except some coconuts is sold at the market in Tandag, a half-hour drive to the south. As a result, 80 percent of the residents are fishers, and much of the fish they catch is used to feed their families.
This makes Cortes a perfect location for a Rare campaign, and the mayor, Pedro Trinidad Jr., is an enthusiastic participant. Along with Rare conservation fellow Vincent Duenas, the mayor has upped enforcement of the local MPA – one of Cortes’ eight MPAs – with 24/7 volunteer guards. The mayor has even gotten approval to start a landmark program that would require families on welfare assistance to volunteer for shifts in the guardhouse, the first program of its kind in the country.
Vince’s work to educate the town about dynamite and illegal fishing has been so successful that fishermen who were part of the problem have now come around. “Illegal fishermen are now stewards of the sea,” the mayor said as we met over lunch. “Those who were dynamiting the fish are now guarding the MPA.”
Later, we went to visit the guardhouse in Uba, a tiny town of 150 fishing families a short drive from Cortes. Vince’s campaign mascot, a friendly oversize rabbitfish named Rabita, made an appearance – swarmed by children – and we met with a dozen fishers and their wives and daughters in the guardhouse, located on a rocky outcropping just outside town.
Congress took a strong step forward today in the fight against illegal fishing, as Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced legislation to fight this growing global problem that threatens our oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers worldwide.
The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Frank Guinta (R, NH-01), Sam Farr (D, CA-17), Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), and Donna Christensen (D-VI).
The legislation, titled the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act,” would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
Illegal, or pirate, fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching species that may be threatened or endangered. Because this fishing is unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess the true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates, however, that pirate fishing results in global economic losses of between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for as much as 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Just a few weeks after we celebrated a soaring victory for sharks on the U.S. West Coast, Colombian authorities have reported that as many as 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and silky sharks may have been slaughtered in Colombia's Pacific waters.
According to the Colombian president’s top environmental adviser, divers saw 10 Costa Rican trawlers illegally entering the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary. When the divers swam down to the ocean floor, they found a shocking amount of sharks without their fins.
The Malpelo sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage site, provides an ideal habitat for threatened sharks. Unfortunately, the high concentration of sharks in the sanctuary draws illegal fishing boats from nearby nations.
It’s sad day for sharks, but we'll continue working to stop illegal fishing and shark finning. You can help by supporting our campaign to protect our ocean’s top predators from extinction.
Today, the U.S. and E.U. signed a historic agreement to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. These activities are responsible for most illegal fish on the market, some of the most destructive fishing practices in use, and a loss of as much as $23 billion in revenue for legal American fishermen.
The agreement builds on measures each side has already enacted, such as an American moratorium on driftnet fishing and European import processes that require seafood certification. Additionally, two bills currently in the Senate would ban mislabeling seafood and put government money to reducing seafood fraud.
News of the US-EU agreement comes on the heels of a new study recommending that industrial deep-sea fishing be banned. Many deep-sea fish, such as orange roughy and Chilean sea bass, have long lifespans and low birthrates that make them highly susceptible to overfishing. The study also cites the harmful effects of bottom-trawlers, which both wipe out entire local populations of the target fish species and bulldoze long-lived deep sea corals.
Oceana board member and renowned fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly told the Washington Post that the costs of deep-sea fishing far outweigh the benefits.
“It’s a waste of resources, it’s a waste of biodiversity, it’s a waste of everything,” Pauly said. “In the end, there is nothing left.”
Oceana and National Geographic are currently aboard a Chilean naval ship, the Comandante Toro, on a scientific expedition in the waters of the newly created marine park around Sala y Gomez island (FYI, an alternate spelling is Salas y Gomez). Author Alex Muñoz Wilson is the Executive Director of Oceana Chile. This blog dispatch was originally posted at National Geographic.
We woke up this morning to a startling sight: Overnight, a small commercial fishing boat from Easter Island entered the protected waters of the marine park and dropped its lines within site of the Comandante Toro.
The fishing boat's captain was either brazen (why make an illegal fishing foray in plain sight of a large naval patrol ship?) or unaware of the existence of the new park (which would also be surprising, given the substantial publicity in Chile--particularly on Easter Island--surrounding the park's creation).
The Navy captain dispatched a team in one of the Toro's fast boats to interdict the fishing vessel, inspect it, and put a stop to the illegal fishing. According to the captain's report, this was a small commercial fishing boat with tuna in the boat's hold.
The fishing boat's owner said he was aware of the existence of the marine park, and that he was still planning to fish in this area. The navy showed him maps which made it clear that he was harvesting marine life inside the park in a no-take zone where all commercial fishing is banned.
This was the first enforcement action inside the new marine park.
The decision follows intense campaigning by our European colleagues, who estimate that more than 500 vessels have been operating illegally in the Mediterranean, some with nets up to 12 miles long. It’s estimated that thousands of creatures, including whales, dolphins, sharks and sea turtles, are trapped by the indiscriminate fishing gear each year.