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February 22, 2018

Dispatch: Breakfast washes in with the tide

Robert Makinano picks through his nets in the Philippines. Subsistence fishermen, like him, depend on abundant seas to preserve their way of life.
OCEANA / Jenn Hueting


Fishermen wade into the shallows of the Tañon Strait at dawn, on the coast of Moalboal, Philippines.

Robert Makinano checks his nets in the foreground. He fishes to feed his family. Oceana’s multimedia producer, Melissa Forsyth, interviewed Makinano on this morning in 2014. “The fish he was pulling out were tiny,” she said in an interview at Oceana HQ, in Washington D.C. “Like, maybe four inches.”

It’s hard to feed a family with catches that small. But commercial fishing operations — which entered the Strait illegally, despite a ban since 1998 — had plundered the area, taking most of the big fish. In the dozens of hamlets fringing the coast, Forsyth said, “these guys were left with basically nothing.”

Since 2014, things have changed, thanks to efforts by Oceana Philippines, Rare Philippines, coastal communities, federal and local fisheries managers, plus other allies. Stricter vessel monitoring and stronger law enforcement cut down on illegal fishing in the Tañon Strait, said Gloria Estenzo Ramos, the head of Oceana’s Philippine office.

“The Tañon Strait is an important traditional source of fish for millions of Filipinos,” she said. “Doing the right thing for Tañon paves the way for the sustainable use and management of our fisheries to address food security concerns.” 

At sunrise, the water is dotted with small boats, as well as poles and nets in the shallows. Protecting the Strait from commercial interests means bigger fish cruise the waters now, which locals can eat or sell at market. For every $1 invested in the Tañon Strait in the last five years, these communities have reaped $30 in improved catch. 

That means better mornings for Makinano and many fishermen like him.