Friday, May 25, 2007

Beyond the Rhetoric: The Philippine Anti-Blast Fishing Campaign

No longer the “toothless law” it once was, will the Philippine anti-blast fishing law work this time around?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since the post World War II economic reconstruction period, blast fishing – a fishing method that’s all but outlawed throughout the civilized world – gained notoriety here in the Philippines. It seems like anyone who can cobble up an ammonium nitrate based IED (improvised explosive device) is “good to go” for blast fishing, despite of the possible fatal injury to the fisherman and the long term damage that’s inflicted to our fragile coral reef systems. Even after years of illegal blast fishing, studies revealed that the seas surrounding the Philippine islands – especially in the Visayan region – are deemed more bio diverse than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. According to Nygiel B. Armada a FISH fisheries manager, the Visayan seas contain more than 26 tons of fish per square kilometer. Despite of this apparent abundance, marine resources –like fish- need to be managed to maintain sustainability. Illegal fishing methods like blast fishing threaten the sustainability of our fish stocks. The damage caused by blast fishing goes beyond the crater formed by the explosive device, ultra-fine coral fragments created from the resulting blast can smother the surrounding coral bed causing long term damage that can drastically affect the local fishing industry.

Recent anti-blast fishing campaigns- especially those being spearheaded by Jojo de la Victoria and Tony Oposa are seen by local environmental pressure groups as a long-awaited “White Knight” that will eliminate the problem of illegal fishing in one fell swoop. While setting up patrols to police the relatively lawless Visayan seas. Jojo de la Victoria and Tony Oposa’s program of penalizing perpetrators to the full extent of the law, market denial of fish caught by illegal means coupled with an educational campaign explaining to the communities dependent on the fishing industry the follies of blast fishing. Their program proved to be very effective because blast fishing seems to have vanished almost overnight. Unfortunately, this angered the lawless elements that are involved in the illegal blast fishing industry.

Sadly, Jojo de la Victoria was assassinated in a desperate attempt by the organized crime elements involved in the illegal fishing industry to stop the very successful anti-blast fishing campaign that he and Tony Oposa had started. The anti-blast fishing campaign was not daunted by the murder of one of the founders. Instead, it gained the much- needed impetus to stop blast fishing once and for all. Bantay Dagat patrols with the help of NBI personnel equipped with M-16 rifles conduct raids on known blast fishing hot spots/strongholds, and confiscating paraphernalia used for blast fishing. At the same time educating these communities that blast fishing can deprive them of their livelihood by destroying the coral reefs that fishes need to spawn.

Unlike the Marcos-era Bantay Dagat of yore, which are no more than mere rhetoric aimed to please the local and international environmental pressure groups. The campaign established by Jojo de la Victoria and Tony Oposa is more likely to succeed and last because the police action is backed by an effective educational campaign. As Tony Oposa said on the environmental effects of blast fishing: “another blast is one blast too many.”

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