In September 2018, the Environmental Defense Fund began the difficult task of helping change the way regulators view and manage fishing waters in the Philippines. Political boundaries do not apply to fish that migrate and straddle between municipal waters–but the responsibility of fish stock management falls to local government units with guidance from the fisheries bureau.
EDF’s proposition is rights-based management, a framework in global fisheries management that aims to balance economic, ecological, and social needs. In simple terms, this means dividing the archipelago into several Fisheries Management Areas (FMAs) and creating a management framework in consideration of the natural environment: the available species in the area, as well as the seasonal movement patterns. It requires a lot of science and participatory governance as the borders of an ecosystem can cover several municipalities.
Ensuring that these ecosystems are managed properly will make fisheries sustainable and will contribute to the bigger discussion on national food security. Case in point, Filipinos get 38% of their protein requirements from the sea. This single statistic is very telling of the entire country’s possible future, and its dependence on the government’s success (or failure) in striking a balance between people’s economic, ecological, and social needs.
The challenge for EDF is to make a lasting impact on high-level policy by providing the government with the best possible local information that would be used in drafting FMA guidelines.
Sustainable fishing can’t be applied globally unless governments design solutions that meet the needs of fishermen, seafood suppliers and retailers, policymakers, and others who depend on the oceans.
Evident and EDF designed a stakeholder workshop that hosted a diverse set of partners from the national government, local government, academe, commercial fishers, fisheries NGOs, fisherfolk, and social entrepreneurship circles. It involved a discussion on FMA basics, best international case studies, and the pioneering movements from some Philippine LGUs that have worked on similar systems.
The sessions also studied governance attributes that determine the effectiveness of policies such as:
- accountability and transparency
- adequacy of monitoring and enforcement
- clarity of rules defining objectives and directives
- clarity of standards in protecting marine ecosystems
- From the workshop, Evident produced formal documentation and a white paper with structural details of the FMA, as well as some operational recommendations.
- Within two months from submission of the white paper, the fisheries regulator launched a Science Advisory Board meant to support the technical queries of those from the policy end.
- Within three months, a departmental policy was signed: Establish FMAs and provide a science-based, participatory and transparent governance framework and mechanism to sustainably manage fisheries in such areas consistent with the principles of EAFM (Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management) anchored on food security, and supplementary livelihood for poverty alleviation consistent with the objectives of the Amended Fisheries Code (Chapter 1, Section 1, FAO 263).