The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
January, 1999 Vol. 2 No. 1
This story first appeared in Tambuli, A Publication for Coastal Management Practitioners No. 2
n the town of Talibon in northern Bohol, the old folks still talk of a time when shells, crabs and fish made such easy picking along large stretches of the coastline that a half-hour stroll by the sea was all it took to fill a basket with seafood. They recall how, up until the 1950s, people fled when turtles the size of bulldozers turned up on the beach.
But so much has changed in the last 40 years. For one, people don’t fear turtles anymore, they eat them, or so this often-told Talibon joke implies:
A fisher arrives at the pier clutching a live pawikan (sea turtle). As he walks down the pier on his way to the market to sell the pawikan, a local official shouts out to him. Scared, the fisher throws the pawikan into the sea. The official rushes near, aghast.
"Why did you do that?" he asks the fisher.
"I’m sorry for taking the pawikan, Sir. Please don’t arrest me! I’ve mouths to feed. Please! Don’t send me to jail," the fisher pleads.
"Jail? What jail?" says the official. "I merely wanted to tell you to grill the turtle and I’ll buy us some rum to chase it down!"
The challenge for us was how to work with the fisherfolk and the local government in tackling the problems of an area that had once been a hugely rich fishing ground. Talibon had many of the classic problems of poor coastal resource use and management that required as much of a multidisciplinary approach as our budget would allow.
Illegal fishing was one of the biggest problems. Blast fishing was so common that one had a good chance of seeing or hearing dynamite blasts on most days, especially in the morning or evening. The local folk even had their own pet name for the activity -- "planting rice" – which conjures up images of a newly plowed field, describing well the way a recently blasted reef looks. Besides dynamite, there was a cocktail of other illegal fishing gears exhibiting themselves in the area.
Needless to say, the area’s fishery showed classic signs of overexploitation. Since the 1970s, the size of hooks had plummeted along with the mesh size of nets. Fishing gears had subsequently become ever more efficient. Many trawls and a variety of scaring devices were being used. Illegal fishing had become a way of life, with financiers controlling many of the fishing gears, credit and marketing facilities, as well as enjoying strong political clout. There was even a fishers’ organization whose main objective was to help its members financially if they get caught fishing illegally.
After the first year, we had registered small fisherfolk organizations with an average of 25 member-households each. These organizations were made up of household units where women and youth participation was actively pursued.
Meanwhile, we conducted a series of well-attended seminars on subjects ranging from leadership to marine biology and the environment. The fisherfolk showed great interest in what we had to say and, slowly, they began to exhibit a new level of awareness and improved attitudes. Moreover, as each seminar ended with barangay- and municipal-level planning exercises and cross-visits, they formulated management plans which they committed to implement with the help of BIDEF.
Some groups opted for reforestation. Between 1994 and 1995, 15 hectares of mangrove stewardship contracts were awarded to fisherfolk organizations and individuals, who were paid to collect the propagules which they planted for free.
In March 1995, one group declared the first of eight sanctuaries established under the program. The three-hectare marine reserve had "no take" and "passive fishing only" zones. This was followed by the declaration of a five-hectare sanctuary and another eight-hectare sanctuary within the same year.
Talibon now has eight sanctuaries ranging in size from three to 40 hectares. All of these are supported by approved barangay and municipal ordinances. A number are in non-BIDEF sites, proving that some of the project outputs have been replicated in other areas.
A livelihood program was also started. The fishers chose the livelihood projects that they thought would be the best for their group and we provided technical services. Some of these projects failed when a few organizations extended loans to members for the repair of houses damaged by a typhoon in 1994. Four marine-based cultures also failed due to a variety of technical and external factors. But there were many visible successes – pig dispersal, grouper fish grow-out and sale, oyster culture, seaweed farming, sea crab culture and solar electricity, among others.
war against illegal fishing
The mayor, Juanario Item, held a series of barangay consultations on the issue. There he told the illegal fishers to stop their destructive ways. In three months, the local Philippine National Police had built their own boat and begun the awesome task of arresting illegal fishers. Those arrested included not only local residents but also transient fishers from as far as Cebu and Leyte. By 1996, the local government had collected more than one million pesos in illegal fishing fines and impounded an array of illegal fishing paraphernalia which were burned to ensure that they would not be used again.
As expected, this all-out effort to stop illegal fishing hit those who relied on illegal fishing for livelihood. Some households suffered income loss because of the arrests. In one barangay, school attendance dropped by more than 60% during the first few months of the campaign as affected fishers were unable to pay their children’s matriculation fees. Even so, illegal fishing continued. Confronted, illegal fishers said they would be happy to stop if they could find an alternative livelihood. To this the Mayor responded by releasing one million pesos in small loans to fishers’ cooperatives.
In early 1997, a new association called FISHWAT (Fishery Warden Association of Talibon) was formed and more than 100 people were trained and deputized as fishery wardens. Since then, all the fisherfolk organizations have been federated into one group called the Federasyon sa Gagmayng Mananagat sa Talibon, or FEGAMATA.
gains of cooperation
An indicator of increased catch is the doubling of the number of passive fish corrals (bungsod) in the area. Another is the recent construction of 11 stationary bag net fishing gears locally called "newlook." This is the first time in more than 10 years that this fishing technique is being used in the area. The technique was abandoned by fishers in the 1980s because of poor catch.
The Talibon project is by no means complete. Still, Talibon is well ahead of nearly all other areas of Bohol in coastal resource management. Its fisherfolk-friendly mayor and municipal council have proven to be effective law-making and law-implementing authorities. Fisherfolk have become strong advocates of ecological protection. Fish have reappeared in demersal and formerly barren areas. Fisherfolk have become quite content with using just hook and line, and others who didn’t use to fish have taken up fishing as a supplementary livelihood. All of these suggest that fisheries management measures can be really be seen and felt at the local level and, even more importantly, over a relatively short span of time.
An important lesson that the most important stage of the project is community organizing and that the project needs a good mix of experienced staff with a variety of backgrounds. While we were able to operate alone initially, it was only until co-management was implemented that the resource management really took off. The lag between the project start in 1994 and the change of officials in the local government in 1995 gave us time to get the fisherfolk organizations up and running before approaching the co-management stage.
Good resource management takes time to develop, as does devolving the management of resources to the resource users. But once community-based development begins to gain momentum, it becomes sustainable indeed.
PHOTOS BY STUART GREEN
BIDEF is a non-governmental organization based in Tagbilaran City. Advocating fisherfolk-based coastal resource management, it has been involved in coastal resource management for more than a decade. Its "Bosicadd" program covers 4 coastal municipalities of Bohol as project sites. At the time this article was written, Mr. Green was Project Officer and Technical Assistant at BIDEF.
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