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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
September, 1998 Vol. 1 No. 9
 


Our Finite Seas

A photo essay on our dwindling fishery resources.
By Toni Parras


 

 

 

 

   


T
he Philippines has over 18,000 kilometers of coastline and approximately 27,000 square kilometers of coral reefs, and some of the highest diversity of marine life in the world. Swarms of fishes and other sea creatures, great and small, have at one time or another cruised in both the shallows and the depths of this nation's vast waters. Indeed, for many, many years, it seemed that the bounty from the ocean was endless. But this wasn't so.


Accompany today's artisanal fisherfolk on a typical day trip to the reef and witness their catch: a meager and random assortment of fishes, most no bigger than your hand and many barely the size of your big finger. (Photo by Toni Parras)

Speak to any elder fisher and he will tell you of a time when the fish caught were bigger and more plentiful. Accompany today's artisinal fisherfolk on a typical day trip to the reef and witness their catch: a meager and random assortment of fishes, most no bigger than your hand and many barely the size of your big finger. But competition exists even for these fish. Commercial fishers using huge drift nets over a large area can harvest in a single day more than a municipal fisher could hope to catch in a week. Even the larger open water fishes like tuna and mackerel are smaller and more scarce than they once were. To make matters worse, fishers from other countries enter Philippine waters and compete with local fishers for a dwindling resource. Man has reached into the farthest corner of the ocean's bounty and is finding it in rapid decline. The sea has its limit, and that limit has been reached.


Fish catch once averaged 3 kilos per fisher per trip; it now stands at about 1 kilo per fisher per trip and is continuing to drop. (Photo by Toni Parras)

In response to this reality, subsistence fishers resort to desperate measures, using destructive methods for catching fish to feed their families, such as blast fishing, muro-ami and the use of fine mesh nets, all of which indiscriminately harvest even the juveniles and unwanted, or "trash", fish. These methods also damage the coral reef itself -- the very home and lifeblood of the countless fishes, crustaceans and molluscs upon which fisherfolk subsist.


Man has reached the farthest corner of the ocean's bounty and is finding it in rapid decline. The sea has its limits, and it has been reached. (Photo by Toni Parras)


Fish catch once averaged 3 kilos per fisher per trip; it is now estimated at 1 kilo per fisher per trip, and is continuing to drop. A national population growth rate of almost 2% is not helping matters either. More mouths to feed and less food with which to feed them is an ugly reality that must be faced in the Philippines, as in much of Asia. A concerted effort that confronts a wide range of issues and resource users must be undertaken, but by whom? The national government, local government units, private entities and everyday citizens alike must face the challenges of diminishing marine resources. But this is no easy task.


Pushed to desperate measures, fishers use destructive methods for catching fish to feed their families, damaging the coral reef, the very home and lifeblood of the fishes, crustaceans and molluscs upon which they subsist.

There are glimmers of hope. The government is beginning to address the issues of overfishing, over-exploitation and open access. The passage of the Philippine Fisheries Code is a grand attestment to the realization that our seas are indeed finite and need to be managed in some way. Other organizations, institutions and foreign aid programs are also contributing to the work of raising awareness and educating the Philippine people of marine and coastal issues and resource management. It is a large undertaking, but a necessary one, if Filipinos are to strive for a better life, and a sustainable resource base on which to thrive.


  

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