Fishermen in the Samar Sea are catching much less fish than they did 30 years ago due to what the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Samar State University call loss of biodiversity in that body of water.
The FAO has warned that by 2050, catches of main fish species could decline by up to 40 percent in the tropics, where livelihoods, food and nutrition security strongly depend on the fisheries sector.
In the Samar Sea however, the situation is much more urgent. In the last 30 years, fish catch has dropped from eight kilos per day to less than 3.5 kilos, according to the Samar Sea Fisheries Management Plan of 2016.
A study by the bureau, the FAO and the SSU revealed that earlier survey found that of the 50 commercially important fish species in the Samar Sea in the 1980s, only 10 remained a decade later.
“The continued degradation of resources poses severe implications to the livelihoods and food security of the areas’ more than 23,000 fishers,” said José Luis Fernández, FAO representative to the Philippines. “We are presented with the challenge of balancing human development needs with resource conservation efforts to ensure long-term and sustainable benefits.”
To address this crisis, the bureau is joining a regional FAO program for sustainable fisheries. The multi-country initiative implemented by the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center in the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and Vietnam applies an Essential Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM).
The degradation of the Samar Sea is linked to the increase in commercial fishing, overfishing and destructive fishing methods but its impact is disproportionately felt by families who depend on the ocean for their food and livelihoods.
“Driven by the basic need to eat and earn a living, many fishers in the area practice ‘trawling’ or literally scraping the bottom of the sea to catch bottom-dwelling fish and shellfish. This damages the coral reef and seabed, and contributes to the massive increase of bycatch,” Fernández added.
In trawl fishing, a staggering amount of marine life such as turtles, finfish, juveniles, among others, is also hauled with the catch. While some of this bycatch, specifically the low-value and “trash” fish, helps supplement the incomes of subsistence fishers and address household food insecurity, its prolonged negative impact on marine biodiversity could lead to the eventual closure of the area’s remaining productive fishing grounds.
With technical and operational support from FAO, the bureau and the Samar Sea Alliance of Local Government Units, local fisheries managers, planners and development officers are formulating equitable policies and locally responsive guidelines for the sustainable management of fisheries in the Samar Sea, including reducing bycatch from trawl fishing.
The FAO and the bureau are also cataloguing fishing gear and conducting critical habitat mapping and zoning of fishing grounds. In addition to exploring the benefits of scheduling a closed season, the two agencies are also assessing livelihood requirements and building the capacity of stakeholders to sustain rehabilitation activities with an EAFM perspective.