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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
April, 2007, Vol. 9 No. 2



Municipal fisheries registration and licensing in the Philippines: Review of existing laws and implementation systems

Excerpted from “Development of National and Local Government Fisheries Registration and Licensing Frameworks for the Philippines: Registration and Licensing Frameworks for the Municipal Capture Fisheries Sector of the Philippines”, prepared for the FISH Project by Jose Padilla, Rina Rosales, Paz Benavidez and Eunice Agsaoay-Sano, Resources, Environment and Economics Center for Studies, Inc. The full document can be downloaded here.



isheries registration and licensing are the cornerstones of all fisheries management schemes. The Philippines has, as a matter of national policy, enacted appropriate laws towards registration and licensing in the municipal fisheries sector. The implementation of these laws has become more relevant in recent years with the rapid and continued depletion of municipal fishery resources, degradation of coastal habitats and the consequent poverty in the coastal areas.

Registration and licensing are tools to regulate entry into the fishery that have to be complemented by other measures to regulate fishing activities. In the context of current legal framework, registration is distinct from licensing. In registration, fishers are required to furnish the local government specific information before they can be lawfully allowed to engage in fishing activities. This information is intended to feed policy and regulatory processes for the municipal fisheries sector. In licensing, fishers are granted the right to gain access to the fishery resources and to engage in fishing activities.

Municipal fisheries registration and licensing have been embodied in Philippine fisheries laws and policies since 1932 and in the current Philippine Fisheries Code3 (RA 8550). However, there appears to have been significant challenges in the implementation of these policies and legislation. Registration and licensing in the municipal sector have been limited in varying degrees and have remained deficient with the absence of enabling ordinances.

Further, there have been no distinctions between registration and licensing as any fishing unit that is registered is automatically “licensed”, thereby placing no limits to entry.

Review of existing laws and policies on municipal fisheries registration and licensing

Most of the prevailing laws relevant to fisheries registration and licensing are embodied in and emanate from the Fisheries Code and its implementing rules and regulations. Table 1 shows the status of implementation of the key provisions of existing laws for the municipal fisheries sector. As shown, current policies and legislation appear adequate in responding to the objectives of municipal fisheries registration and licensing. However, the implementation of these policies has remained largely wanting in the absence of corresponding enabling municipal ordinances at the local level, and Fisheries Administrative Orders at the national level. To date, there are only few municipalities in the country, which have enacted Basic Municipal Fisheries Ordinances. Moreover, where enabling ordinances exist, enforcement has been generally weak.

Current municipal fisheries registration and licensing scheme

The current system of municipal registration and licensing is divided into three aspects:

Registration of Municipal Fishers. For providing the basis for prioritization in the granting of access rights, limiting entry to the municipal fishery, and monitoring of fishing activities, RA 8550 Sections 17 to 22 require the annual updating of the registry of municipal fishers and mandate the LGUs to maintain a registry of municipal fishing vessels by type of gear and other vessel particulars with the assistance of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Councils (FARMCs). The registry of municipal fishers serves as the basis for identification of municipal fishers who would be allowed to fish within municipal waters. RA 8550 also explicitly states that registration is not equivalent to a permit to fish, which is provided by a license.

Registration of Municipal Fishing Vessels. Primarily for conferment of identity of fishing vessels and for maritime safety considerations, the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) pursuant to PD 474 and EO 125 / 125 A is mandated to register all vessels operating in the territorial waters of the Philippines. The registration of municipal fishing vessels was previously delegated to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG); however, recently the function is now devolved to the LGUs under EO 305, dated 2 April 2004.

Municipal Fisheries Licensing Scheme. For regulating access to the fishery and for generating revenues for the LGUs, RA 8550 Section 16 provides the LGUs, in consultation with the FARMC, the responsibility to manage, conserve, develop, protect, utilize and dispose of all fish and fishery / aquatic resources within their jurisdiction. Also, RA 8550 Section 6 mandates the LGUs to determine license fees for fishing activities within municipal waters in consultation with the FARMCs. In addition, RA 7160 Section 149 grants municipalities the exclusive authority to award fishery privileges in the municipal waters, to impose rentals, fees or charges, and particularly to issue licenses for the operation of municipal fishing vessels.

Despite sufficient legal and policy framework, municipal fisheries registration and licensing have largely remained unimplemented although implementation is spreading. Among the municipalities that have enacted comprehensive municipal fisheries ordinances are Bani (Pangasinan), Boljoon (Cebu), Guidulman (Bohol) and Inabanga (Bohol). The Lanuza Bay Development Alliance (LBDA) has recently come up with its own municipal fisheries covenant that provides for fisheries rules and regulations for the entire bay. The 22 municipalities surrounding Visayas Sea have also formulated their own fisheries ordinances. All these municipalities have implemented registration and licensing in varying degrees.

A more general description of the fisheries registration and licensing schemes of the five municipalities mentioned above is presented below.

Registration of municipal fishers

For municipalities that have required the registration of fishers, there appears to be no standard procedures. In the municipalities of Carrascal in Lanuza Bay, Boljoon in Cebu and Bani in Pangasinan, municipal fishers proceed directly to the MAO to accomplish the fisher registration form. In Cantilan in Lanuza Bay, fishers first register at the Barangay Council before proceeding to the MAO or MTO while in Inabanga, the MAO and representatives from the MTO, MPDC, PNP and Barangay Council go out to the coastal barangays (village) and conduct registration at specified dates and venues.

Fisher registration forms vary although there are efforts to standardize them to be able to aggregate information at the provincial, regional and national levels in a more coherent manner. The LGUs use either the BFAR-developed or NGO-developed fisher registration forms, which are largely similar in the required information. The general information required is outlined below:

Personal information

  • name of fisher
  • municipality and barangay of residence
  • age, birth date
  • civil status
  • number of years in the municipality
  • blood type
  • mailing address
  • person to notify in case of emergency

Socioeconomic characteristics

  • number of dependents and their dates of birth
  • main and alternative sources of livelihood

Information on fishing practices and activities

  • number of years fishing
  • time of fishing
  • number of hours spent in fishing
  • type and quantity of catch by major fish species
  • fishing vessel and gear specifications
  • fishing grounds

Sociocivic information

  • membership in local and / or national organizations
  • position or designation in organization

The information provided by fishers is verified and assessed by the municipal agriculture officer (MAO). Only fishers who have stayed in the municipality for at least 6 months prior to registration are eligible to register. Fishers are issued a certificate of municipal fisher registration upon completion of the process.

Maintaining a fishers’ registry remains a challenge for most of the LGUs. For some, records are simply accumulated in a pile and for others, information is written in logbooks. There is, therefore, relative difficulty in consolidating or retrieving information when needed.

Fortunately, some LGUs assisted by the USAID/DENR/Coastal Resource Management Project, Fisheries Resource Management Project (FRMP) and site-based NGOs already have computerized record-keeping systems. However, at one time, one LGU has encountered a computer breakdown, which has resulted in loss of data and temporary shut down of the whole registration and licensing system. This happens when there is an insufficient backup system.

Registration of municipal fishing vessels

MARINA is mandated to register vessels operating within the territorial waters of the Philippines and undertake safety regulatory functions pertaining to vessel construction and operation. With this mandate, and pursuant to Department Order No. 98-1180 and Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC)-MARINA Memorandum Circular No. 139, MARINA deputized the PCG to register municipal fishing vessels. PCG carried out the deputized function by requiring vessel owners to submit the following documents to the nearest headquarters/station5 prior to the issuance of vessel safety documents:

  • barangay clearance
  • birth certificate
  • affidavit of vessel ownership
  • builder’s certificate
  • official receipt on the sale of engine
  • 2 copies of 8” x 7” picture of the vessel
  • 2 copies of 1” x 1” ID picture of the owner

PCG then determines the admeasurements of the vessel, assesses its seaworthiness and issues the following vessel safety documents:

  • certificate of number (CN): confers identity to the fishing vessel; issued once; remains valid as long as the vessel is still functioning;
  • motorboat operator’s license (MBOL): authorizes the operator / owner to operate the motorboat; and
  • permit to operate (PTO): permits the owner or operator to use the vessel to fish in a specified zone / area.

Only the PCG station commanders are authorized to sign the documents on behalf of the MARINA Administrator. However, there has been widespread confusion among the fishers, LGU staff and PCG field personnel as to which government agency has the mandate to register and license municipal fishing vessels. On the one hand, the LGUs are mandated to issue licenses to fishing vessels operating within municipal waters as provided for by Section 149 (3) of the LGC and Sections 16, 17 and 18 of the Fisheries Code. On the other hand, MARINA-PCG issues permits to provide municipal fishing vessels a national character and ensure maritime safety as mandated by PD 474.

This prompted the DILG to issue Legal Opinion No. 58, Series of 2002. DILG harmonized the supposed conflict by stating that on the one hand, it is within PCG’s mandate to register vessels plying Philippine waters and issue required documents to certify seaworthiness. The LGU’s power to issue licenses, on the other hand, is for purposes of regulating fishing operations and imposing reasonable fees.

The DILG concluded that “… owners / operators of fishing vessels of any size and capacity need to register their vessels with the PCG for the purpose of securing a certificate of registration. However, if a municipal fishing vessel intends to operate in a particular municipality, an additional requirement of a license secured from the municipality concerned is required.” From this legal opinion, DILG recognized that municipal registration and licensing of fishing vessels is both for purposes of regulation and revenue-generation. Furthermore, it highlighted the distinction between registration and licensing.

Such confusion might have encouraged some fishers to register their vessels in only one government agency, i.e., either LGU or PCG, further claiming that one registration is already sufficient to avoid apprehensions. Some claim that they incur unnecessary expenses since registration in one agency serves the same purpose as the registration in another. Moreover, it could have contributed to the noncompliance of a number of fishers resulting in the ineffectiveness of the vessel registration scheme.

The issuance of Executive Order (EO) 305 has resolved this issue. EO 305 devolved the registration of fishing vessels of 3 GT and below to the LGUs. It aims to prescribe a uniform system and procedures to guide all the LGUs in the conduct of the registration of municipal fishing vessels. Also, it seeks to delineate the functions of all national government agencies, leagues of LGUs and all other relevant sectors involved in the registration of municipal fishing vessels and to establish mechanisms to implement the Order and enable all agencies involved to monitor compliance.

Figure 1 provides an illustration of how the confusion / conflict among government agencies (on which has the mandate to register municipal fishing vessels) started. It also shows various government responses to said issue.

Figure 1. Conflicting mandates on municipal fishing vessel registration and government responses to the issue


(Click image to enlarge)

Municipal Fisheries Licensing Scheme

The experience of implementing a municipal fisheries licensing scheme in the country is limited. There are no standard procedures in securing a license. The schemes adopted by the LGUs vary. However, licensing procedures of the LGUs are somehow similar in that they generally involve four local government offices: Barangay Treasurer, MAO, Municipal Treasurer’s Office (MTO) and Municipal Mayor’s Office (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Current procedures in municipal fisheries registration and licensing


(Click image to enlarge)

The fisher is required to secure the following supporting documents prior to obtaining a license:

  • community tax certificate (upon payment of corresponding community tax): provides information on residency, birth date and age of the applicant;
  • barangay clearance: provides proof of residency in the barangay for a minimum of 6 months; and
  • certificate of municipal fisher registration: certifies that the applicant has completed the process of fisher registration.

In addition to the above-mentioned requirements, some LGUs further require:

  • police clearance: certifies that the applicant has not been engaged in any illegal activity; and
  • health / sanitary permit: certifies that the applicant does not have any communicable disease that may endanger the public.

The MAO is in charge of the following: (i) assessing the veracity of information provided by the fisher-applicant; (ii) evaluating fees and charges; and (iii) recommending the issuance of vessel registration and Mayor’s permit / license to fish. The MTO takes charge of the payment of fees, fines and penalties.

The Mayor’s Office processes and issues the following:

  • municipal fishing vessel license / certificate of vessel registration: permits the vessel to operate within municipal waters;
  • mayor’s permit to fish: allows fishers to fish within municipal waters; and
  • fishing gear license permit: ascertains that gear used are not destructive and are consistent with those that are permitted by RA 8550 and any local ordinance.

Processing of the documents takes 1 day - 2 weeks, depending on the availability of the Mayor.

Comparison of schemes across selected municipalities

The registration and licensing schemes of the municipalities documented during the review and documentation phase of this initiative contain the following elements:

Scope. For the municipalities of Cantilan, Guindulman and Inabanga, the LGU issues licenses only to fishing vessels and gear. However, the LGU of Bani issues licenses to the whole fishing unit (fishers, their fishing vessels and gear). In Boljoon, the fishing vessels are registered while the fishers and their gear are licensed. The LBDA proposes to license all registered fishers, cooperatives and corporations including their fishing vessels and gear.

Eligibility Requirements. To be eligible for registration and licensing, fishers must have been residents of the municipality for at least 6 months. The LGU of Bani further requires all fishers to be at least 18 years of age at the time of application, in addition to the residency imposition. The

LBDA requires that fishers be residents of any member-municipality of the Alliance.

Duration / Expiration of Registration and Licenses. The period for registration and licensing in Bani, Cantilan and Inabanga falls in January of each year. Certificates of registration, permits and licenses are valid only until midnight of 31 December. Meanwhile, in Boljoon and Guindulman, fishers can register and obtain permits and licenses anytime of the year, which will expire exactly one year after the fishers, have obtained their permits or licenses. All registration and licenses are valid only for one year.

Requirements for Renewal. Fishers must not have recorded violations of the Municipal Fishery Ordinance in order for their registration and license to be renewed.

Fees, Fines and Penalties. No registration fee is imposed in Boljoon, Inabanga and Bani. In Bani, the LGU subsidizes the cost of fisher registration because it hires barangay-based enumerators to conduct thorough registration at PhP 8 per completed questionnaire. This is its response to the low compliance in voluntary registration of fishers in the previous year. In Cantilan, fishers are charged a minimum amount of PhP 5 as registration fee.

Registration is a prerequisite to obtain a license. Unregistered fishers cannot apply for a license. Moreover, failure to register and obtain a license within the specified period subjects the fishers to administrative fines and penalties as specified by local ordinances.

License fees for fishers, fishing vessels and gear are roughly determined by the FARMCs. As expected, license fees vary across the municipalities.

Conditions for Suspension / Revocation of Licenses. When fishers are involved in illegal and destructive fishing or if they have violated any of the provisions of the Fisheries Code three times, their licenses are revoked. In addition to revocation of permits and licenses, illegal fishers face confiscation of their fishing vessels and gear, and assessed a fine not exceeding PhP 2,500.

Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement. For easy monitoring and surveillance, the LGUs of Bani and Boljoon require that the registration number of the fishing vessel be painted on one or both sides while other LGUs require fishers to obtain registration plates. Although color-coding is required by the

Fisheries Code and the Basic Municipal Fisheries Ordinances, it is not fully enforced. In the municipalities of Bani, Boljoon, Inabanga and Guindulman, monitoring and enforcement are undertaken generally by the Bantay-Dagat in coordination with the PNP-MG and other law enforcing agencies. In Cantilan, the person in charge of vessel registration goes with the PNP-MG during surveillance.

Compliance rates

Of the five municipalities documented, Guindulman had the highest rate of compliance at 100% for the year 2004. However, the data should be interpreted carefully because records also show that there was a significant drop of 43% in the number of registered motorized fishing vessels from the 2003 figure of 104. Boljoon comes second with 78%.

The municipalities of Bani, Cantilan and Inabanga show 30%, 8% and 4% compliance rates, respectively.

Opportunities and challenges

The opportunities and challenges in implementing municipal fisheries registration and licensing are discussed below.

Lack of Comprehensive Fisheries Ordinances. Most coastal municipalities and cities have not yet enacted their own fisheries ordinances, which provide for fisheries registration and licensing along with other fisheries regulations.

This general absence of enabling ordinances may have resulted from a number of factors including: (a) lack of technical capacity to undertake the development and enactment of a fisheries ordinance; (b) lack of appreciation of coastal resource management (CRM); (c) lack of understanding of the urgency to regulate overfishing; and (d) fear of antagonizing political constituents in the coastal area, among others.

The challenge lies in how to push local government executives and officials to implement fisheries registration and licensing schemes in their jurisdictions. This requires policy advocacy at the local level. Ancillary to this is the need to re-orient local chief executives on the appropriate objectives registration and licensing. Defining the objectives is a key policy issue that should be properly looked into.

One particular policy that needs to be implemented at the local level is the delineation of municipal waters for coastal municipalities and cities of the country. Identifying territorial limits is important in formulating a comprehensive fisheries ordinance as it determines its scope and application.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has already issued the DA Administrative Order 1, Series of 2004, otherwise known as “Guidelines for Delineating/Delimiting Municipal Waters for Municipalities and Cities without Offshore Islands”. The guidelines for delineating municipal waters for municipalities and cities with offshore islands have yet to be issued, however.

Lack of Enforcement. The lack of strategic formulation of fisheries ordinances and the constant pressure of political constituents to relax its implementation, among others, have resulted in the negligible effect of registration and licensing to generate sufficient information to support technically sound and socially acceptable political decisions to manage municipal fisheries.

Implementing registration and licensing generally remains a challenge given the issues described below.

  • No Limit on the Number of Licenses. Granting of licenses is merely based on “demand” considerations; i.e., the need of the applicant to fish as means of livelihood. Anybody from the municipality can obtain licenses upon presentation of the necessary documents. This system does not take into account the capacity of the fishery resources to support all registered and licensed fishers. The provisions of the Fisheries Code for the estimation of resource capacity using maximum sustainable yield (MSY), total allowable catch (TAC) or any other resource capacity indicators, as the basis for determining the number of licenses have not been implemented. Resource and ecological assessments are lacking and if available, are not adequately fed into the formulation of the ordinance. The primary bottleneck rests on the following: (a) high costs of stock assessments; (b) lack of technical capacity of LGU personnel to undertake the activity or sustain the activity where there are already initial studies conducted; and perhaps the (c) lack of appreciation for such scientific studies.

  • Inappropriate License Fees and Costly Documentary Requirements. Fees are roughly determined by FARMCs during the design phase of the Basic Municipal Fisheries Ordinance. Fishers who were interviewed during the inception phase have indicated that some fees are set too high. The perceived high fees appear to support the notion that the LGUs view fisheries licensing as a large source of local government revenues that need to be tapped. However, given the present open access status of most municipal fisheries where resource rents and fishing incomes have practically dissipated, fishers expressed that they could hardly pay the required fees. Some fishers even refuse to register and to obtain a license because of the perceived prohibitive fees. In addition to the “prohibitive” license fees, fishers have also complained about the very costly documentary requirements necessary to obtain a license. The cost includes payment for documentary requirements, registration and license fees, and cost of transportation from residence to the municipal hall. Some have also conveyed that because of the distance of the municipal hall from the residence, obtaining registration and licenses has become time-consuming.

  • Unnecessary Requirements. In some municipalities, fishing is considered a business activity. Hence, the LGUs require fishers to submit necessary business supporting documents (e.g., health permit, etc.) in order to obtain a Mayor’s permit. One issue is that these requirements are often costly to fishers. Another issue is that fishing is not purely a business activity. A number of municipal fishers fish mainly for subsistence, i.e., for household consumption. Where a portion of daily catch is sold, the revenues are used to purchase other basic necessities. To presume that fishing is a profit-oriented enterprise will lead the LGUs to treat subsistence fishing similar to other business enterprises. The LGUs are bound to require fishers the same supporting documents and charge additional expenses. The process of` registration and licensing becomes costly and complicated for fishers who are poor and illiterate. There is, therefore, a need to simplify and standardize fisheries registration and licensing process and separate it from the process of business registration.

  • Budget and Political Commitment. The inadequacy of budgetary support for fisheries management activities at the local level remains a challenge especially for administrators and law enforcers. LGU officials and personnel have conveyed lack of resources in terms of logistics as a reason for the delay of the CRM process. This is expected to get worse in the coming years given that the National Government is experiencing severe fiscal deficits. The political commitment of elected LGU officials becomes increasingly crucial in light of this crisis. Enforcing registration and licensing and other regulations will require financial support. Local sectors will face stiffer competition for a share of the available funds. Unless local officials commit to support and enforce fisheries registration and licensing, there is no reversal to the current dire situation in most municipal fisheries in the country.

  • Lack of proper information about the purposes and benefits of registration and licensing. On the part of the LGUs, there are a number of local chief executives and officials that perceive registration and licensing as large source of funds; hence, they are driven to initiate registration and licensing based on such purpose. On the part of fishers, they also perceive that registration and licensing are undertaken mainly by the LGUs as a way to generate revenues. They could not see the importance and benefits from registration and licensing.

  • Institutional Arrangements. The formulation of the ordinance that supports registration and licensing schemes rests with the Sangguniang Bayan, with the Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries as the sponsor. The MAO, in consultation with the FARMCs, provides technical preparations and support. NGOs working with the LGUs also provide technical and legal assistance in drafting ordinances. FARMCs have already been created in most coastal municipalities and cities of the country. FARMCs provide an opportunity for greater participation of municipal fishers in the formulation of fisheries ordinances. In all cases presented in this document, FARMCs particularly play a significant role in determining the license and permit fees and evaluating the social acceptability of other crucial elements of the ordinance, such as fines and penalties. It is encouraging to note that FARMCs have upheld their mandate as a consultative body especially for the marginal fishers.

However, it is also important to consider that consultation with FARMCs is a dynamic and continuing process and does not end with the enactment of the ordinance. FARMCs need to monitor the implementation of the ordinance and evaluate its applicability and effectiveness. However, in some municipalities, the role of FARMCs seemingly ends with the enactment of the ordinance. This poses a challenge since it indicates that FARMCs have not been fully integrated into a decentralized fisheries management system.

The concept of FARMCs is “top-down”- one that has emerged only because their creation is required by law. Thus, it is important for the LGUs to fully comprehend the idea of devolution and decentralization, so that FARMC participation in overall fisheries management would truly be genuine and sustainable.

Bay Management Councils provide an opportunity for the LGUs bordering bays and gulfs to group together and adopt a unified fisheries management scheme, including those pertaining to registration and licensing, as provided for in RA 8550. Municipal waters in enclosed bays and gulfs are contiguous and may be difficult to delineate; the nature and dynamics of certain fish populations may not be determined by geographic boundaries. Hence, the best management option transcends beyond geopolitical boundaries. The institution of Bay Management Councils will eliminate issues of overlapping boundaries and competition among the LGUs. It will also allow municipalities to share in the costs of recurrent monitoring and enforcement costs.

The investments (e.g., patrol boats) could be shared by neighboring LGUs, thus, the average cost of monitoring and enforcing could be minimized. The challenge, however, rests on selling the idea of a unified fisheries management system to local chief executives considering enormous incentives for free-riding. Another challenge is on how to keep all LGUs equally at pace in their fisheries management efforts. It is possible that the progress of a bay management council will be as fast as that of the most laggard LGU. This may diminish the enthusiasm of more advanced LGUs in terms of fisheries management.

The issuance of EO 305 devolving the vessel registration function of MARINA to the LGUs has certainly simplified vessel registration procedure and clarified intergovernmental functions of MARINA-PCG, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and LGUs. As there are substantial modifications in the procedure for fishing vessel registration, there is a need to conduct intensive IEC activities to obtain greater compliance from fishers.

Socio-cultural Orientation and Socioeconomic Status of Municipal Fishers. One of the most difficult barriers towards a limited entry scheme is the socio-cultural orientation of fishers and other user groups that have traditionally regarded fisheries as open access. Although fishers have already realized the need for regulation, the fear of being excluded from future use often overwhelms and pushes them to negate any move to regulate or limit entry. If registration and licensing will not be enforced, controlling effort will become even more difficult in the long run with the increasing demands from a coastal population that grows at a relatively rapid rate of 2.4% per year. Increasing population growth rate coupled with pervasive poverty requires additional effort towards effective fisheries management. It also entails structural economic changes to encourage potential participants to move away from the fisheries sector.

Related information: Guidelines on Registration and Licensing of Municipal Capture Fisheries for Implementation by Local Government Units (LGUs)

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This website was made possible through support provided by the USAID under the terms of Contract No. AID 492-C-00-03-00022-00. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID. As long as proper reference is made to the source, articles may be quoted or reproduced in any form for non-commercial, non-profit purposes to advance the cause of marine environmental and fisheries management and conservation.