A Toast to the TURF Pioneers

As the next batch of Rare Pride Campaign Managers graduates in the Philippines, we look at how their three-year sustainable fishing campaigns played out for fishers and their communities

January 17, 2018
Rare Pride Campaign Managers with their St. Lucia parrot pins.

At the University of the Philippines Bahay ng Alumni in September, local leaders gathered onstage in their formal Filipiniana attire to celebrate the completion of their Pride campaigns with Rare. Awarded St. Lucia parrot pins (a symbol of Rare Pride’s origins) during their graduation ceremony, the men and women of the night were brimming with pride of their own, and rightfully so. For the last three years, these leaders, or Rare Pride Campaign Managers, and their campaign teams have been at the helm of coastal fisheries reform.

As local government staff and partners with Rare, the Campaign Managers have worked toward sustainable fishing in coastal communities of Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, Sorsogon, Antique, Occidental Mindoro, Surigao del Norte, Camarines Norte and Zambales.

Their campaigns empower new thinking, decision-making and organization within communities around sustainable fishing, with TURF+Reserves as the centerpiece of the practices they promote. TURF+Reserves combine the concepts of territorial user rights for fishing (TURF) and marine reserves to create legally-designated zones in which local fishers sustainably use and conserve fisheries resources, and fish stocks have a chance to recover.

The Campaign Managers’ efforts to rally local adoption of TURF+Reserves and change how coastal communities manage their fisheries have earned them the nick-name, “TURF Pioneers.” And true pioneers they are — the gains they’ve made so far have been remarkable.

Getting on the Grid: Registered Fishers, Licensed Gear

During its previous administration, the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources began to require fishers to get registered and have their boats and gear licensed. The program aims to create a comprehensive registry of fishers that will facilitate fishers’ access to government benefits, and help identify management priorities in the sector.

In partnership with the local government, Rare helps the Pioneers promote compliance with the registration and licensing policy as part of their work in fisheries reform. It takes a lot of work to get fishers to that point. A major barrier to overcome: fishers often complain that they would rather go fishing than go to the municipal hall, especially those who live far from the town center. The fact that very few fishers see the benefit of registering compounds the problem.

In the town of Looc in Occidental Mindoro, Rare Pride Campaign Manager Jose Ambrocio and his team addressed the challenge by seeking the help of leaders among the fishers in advocating for fisher registration as one of the traits of a responsible fisher. Together with local officials, they organized meetings in every village and helped fishers fill out registration forms, as well as those for health and social security benefits. Registered fishers were also given professional identification cards to instill the value of fishing as an esteemed profession.

Associate Campaign Manager Jovelito de Luna says these village meetings became an opportunity for the team to build knowledge among fishers on basic fisheries management concepts, like the importance of a fisher registry. “Before fishers are given boats and gear licenses, they sit through an orientation on relevant fishery rules and regulations,” he says. “In recent meetings, we even taught them proper catch handling and sanitation, such as keeping their fish fresh through correct icing techniques, and cleaning their boat and gear before and after fishing.”

Looc saw higher fisher and boat registration turnout and received prize money from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for the results. The number of registered fishers in the municipality increased from 1,055 last year to 1,411 this year, and boat registration went up by 10 percentage points.

Having their Say: Organizing Community Meetings

A key ingredient in the successful management of coastal fisheries is the active participation of members in organizational meetings and fisheries-related activities, such as resource assessments and consultations. When fishers are involved in fisheries management discussions, they become more committed to finding solutions to local fisheries challenges.

In the town of Tayasan in Negros Oriental, Rare Pride Campaign Manager Dante Gauran often leaves the comfort of his office at the municipal hall to meet with fishers, who usually gather in their villages. He talks to them, even in small groups of three to five, about their concerns and encourages them to join their fisher organization’s meetings, so their ideas can be incorporated into Tayasan’s fisheries program.


I am even amazed that members really see to it that we start on time and share our insights and ideas in fisheries conservation and protection. They just ignored these kinds of community activities before.

Melanchie Goyha, chairperson of the Lutay Fisherfolk Association


The Tayasan campaign used posters to convey the message that fishers are the experts in fisheries discussions. Their strategy worked, with recent surveys showing that the number of fishers attending meetings and consultations in Tayasan has increased by 16 percentage points. Fisher organizations in the villages of Cabulotan and Lutay now meet at least once a month as well, and they regularly invite the local government.

Melanchie Goyha, chairperson of the Lutay Fisherfolk Association, believes that fishers are now actively participating in monthly meetings and informal small group discussions because they feel that their opinions matter and that everyone is willing to listen. “I am even amazed that members really see to it that we start on time and share our insights and ideas in fisheries conservation and protection,” she says. “They just ignored these kinds of community activities before.”


A Winning Strategy: Boosting Fish Catch Reporting

Decisions made around fisheries management are largely dependent on local capacity for getting data. One effective method is fish catch monitoring, the systematic collection of standardized information that indicates what species are being caught, as well as how much, where, when, and how they’re caught. Analysis of the results allows stakeholders to assess fishery trends such as the volume of harvest over time, and the total catch compared to the amount of fishing effort.

In most communities, fishers immediately sell their catch at landing sites, so it is often difficult to get them to voluntarily record their catch and submit the monitoring forms. To encourage fishers to report their catch, Rare Pride Campaign Manager Macario Totanes and his team in the town of Mercedes in Camarines Norte put up an incentive system: every submitted form is replaced with a raffle ticket that gives fishers the chance to win prizes, such as rice and other food items, during monthly draws. A team of enumerators helps fishers record their catch, and explains the importance of the activity.


To ensure the sustainability of the behavior adoption, fish catch reporting will become one of the eligibility requirements for fishing within designated areas.

Macario Totanes, Rare Pride Campaign Manager


Thanks to the team’s support, the number of fishers reporting their catch in Mercedes has increased by 11 percentage points. However, Totanes says the raffles are only intended to kickstart voluntary reporting, and the team is exploring other incentive mechanisms. “To ensure the sustainability of the behavior adoption, fish catch reporting will become one of the eligibility requirements for fishing within designated areas,” he says.

Same Sanctuary, New State of Mind: Enforcing Fisheries Laws

Sustaining fish stocks often depends on the regulation of fishing efforts, so that the amount of fish caught does not exceed the capacity to replenish fisheries. This is where community-led enforcement of fishery regulations comes into play, where fishing happens only in designated areas using the right gear. The strategy helps ensure that fishers see the rewards of their conservation behavior and become advocates for fishery control measures.

Rare Pride Campaign Manager Gina Barquilla and her team in Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte, are creating a movement of fishers committed to protecting their marine resources from illegal fishing. Barquilla herself is a staunch Bantay Dagat, or fish warden, and has organized groups of fishers to become part of the local fishery law enforcement team. They are trained in basic enforcement protocols and operations, and are actively involved in fisheries management.

Barquilla has also employed social marketing tools such as billboards, a campaign jingle, and a mascot to inspire the community to take ownership of their fisheries resources. The fishers help enforce regulations by reporting noncompliant fishers to deputized fish wardens. The recent increase in reported violations and apprehensions demonstrates a functional enforcement system as well as the community’s newfound sense of pride for their marine environment.

Rosevic Sulapas, treasurer of Barangay Caub Marine Association, says there has been a noticeable change in mindset around marine protection among fishers and community members. “The marine sanctuary has been there for years, but it is only now that people truly understand its significance,” says Rosevic. “Because of the program activities, people have realized that what they have been doing before [illegal fishing practices] was wrong and that they have to protect their marine resources,” she says.

The Time for TURF+Reserves: Legally Establishing Managed Access

Rare Pride Campaign Managers and their teams have pushed for the establishment of TURF+Reserves, more commonly called Managed Access Areas + Sanctuary (MAA+S) in the Philippines. MAA+S is designed to be a community-based approach to fisheries management. It requires fishers to follow legally-established fishing guidelines around no-take zones (areas where fishing is off-limits) or marine reserves, so that fish populations and marine habitats within those protected areas can flourish in the absence of fishing pressure.

At the same time, registered fishers using licensed boats and gear are given priority inside exclusive fishing zones. Fishers, local governments and other stakeholders work together in a participatory process that includes resource assessments, coastal zoning, identification of eligibility requirements, and the formation of management bodies to see MAA+S through.

Now, all 12 of the local government units in the sites where Rare has worked have legally established MAA+S in their municipalities. But their work does not stop there. “Our Managed Access Areas + Sanctuary will not only be on paper, but definitely on the water,” said Melvin Maglayon, Rare Pride Campaign Manager of San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, on the challenge of ensuring that established MAA+S are fully implemented.

Mayor Benjamin Tria of Looc expressed the desire for continuing local government partnerships with Rare in improving the livelihood of fishers and rehabilitating resources. “We are challenged, with the fisherfolk, by the hope created in their hearts and in their minds that we can give them a better life,” he said. “The challenge to us, the local government units and the politicians, is perhaps giving them better governance.”


We are challenged, with the fisherfolk, by the hope created in their hearts and in their minds that we can give them a better life. The challenge to us, the local government units and the politicians, is perhaps giving them better governance.

Benjamin Tria, Mayor of Looc


The third cohort’s closing ceremonies in September was a memorable picture of pride for the Rare Pride Campaign Managers and their teams, but back in their sites, there is a bigger picture coming into focus: fishing communities where people and nature thrive.


Sam Harold K. Nervez is the Manager for Training Tools Development and Delivery for Rare in the Phillippines. For more information about Rare’s work there, visit: rare.org/philippines.