THE PHILIPPINE MARINE FISHERY RESOURCES
What Will Remain for the Children of the 21st Century?
Being an archipelago that is made up of 7,107 islands, the Philippines enjoys the vastness of the oceans and seas that surround its peripheral territories. Suffice to say that the country is truly blessed with its bounty of natural resources thriving in these water bodies.
Since time immemorial, fishing has been an important source of livelihood for Filipinos, fish being the country’s second staple food next to rice. On the average, every Filipino consumes daily about 98.6 grams of fish and fish products (FNRI,1994).
The fishing industry provided employment to about one million Filipinos or around 3 percent of the country’s labor force in 1998. Being labor intensive, municipal fishing generated 68 percent of the total employment, followed by aquaculture with 26 percent and commercial fishing, 6 percent.
The fishery is, likewise, a notable sector in the Philippine economy. For the period 1985 to 1998, the average annual contribution of fishery to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) at current prices amounted to 3.6 percent. In 1998, the gross value added (GVA) at current prices of the industry amounted to P74.1 billion, contributing 2.7 percent and 2.8 percent to the country’s GDP and Gross National Product, respectively. Its share to the agriculture, fishery and forestry sector is 17.6 percent.
CONTRIBUTION OF FISHERY RESOURCE TO THE PHILIPPINE ECONOMY
1985-1993 (at current prices)
Pressing Environmental Concerns
During the past decades, the people have enjoyed the abundance of the Philippine marine fishery resource. Ask the old fisherfolks how they culled their harvests. Many of them would say that fish sized with less than a foot rule will automatically be thrown back to the water. Back then, they even have the luxury to choose the most palatable fish among the wide variety of species thriving in a particular fishing ground.
Through time, technology has improved. More and more municipal fishing boats became motorized. A lot of commercial fishing vessels became bigger and more powerful. Fishing gears have evolved from a simple tool to highly sophisticated fishing gadgets that could sweep the bottom of the fishing grounds of almost everything, including the precious coral reefs.
Population in the Philippines has grown significantly and with this, the demand for basic commodities has increased. The demand for fish, both for food consumption and other uses, has increased correspondingly. Consequently, many of the households from the coastal villages have made fishing as their source of livelihood.
The increase in the population coupled with the improved fishing technology brought stress to the country’s marine and coastal ecosystem, thereby affecting the fishery resource. Among the factors that affect the dwindling fishery resource, illegal fishing is a major cause for the destruction of the corral beds in many of the country’s fishing grounds. For instance, sometime in February this year, the coastal villagers of Lagonoy Gulf in Bacacay, Albay expressed their concern about the massive destruction of the gulf’s sanctuary due to illegal fishing (Philippine Daily Inquirer – February 2, 1999). Local authority in the area has done some actions. However, it has been tested that the government alone can not end all these adversities. The local communities must actively play a role in putting up a fight to eliminate illegal fishing.
Fish kills due to the disposal of solid wastes by the local populace and discharges of chemical wastes by some manufacturing plants is also a serious concern that puts the country’s fishery resource in danger. Several instances of fish kills have been reported this year in some fishing grounds such as in Palico River (bordering Nasugbu and Lian Batangas), which happened last February or at Bais Bay (Dumaguete City) which happened in May. It is also worth recalling the Marcopper mine spill causing the leak of mine tailings into the Boac rivers and its tributaries poisoning the river water, which led to the killing of several tons of fish and other aquatic life (Philippine Daily Inquirer – September 3, 1999). The incidence, likewise, affected many of the local populace giving them a number health-related problems.
Another important factor that contributes to the country’s fishery resource depletion is the siltation and sedimentation of the water ecosystem due to deforestation, mining and other human activities. Besides bringing in poisonous and toxic substances into the water, silts and sediments lead to the shallowing of the riverbeds killing phytoplanktons and other aquatic organisms, which are responsible for photosynthetic activities. Photosynthesis, aside from making up the food chain process, supplies the oxygen requirement of fish as well as the rest of living organisms in the ecosystem.