More than a decade ago, the Tandayag Marine Sanctuary in the municipality of Amlan was on the brink of collapse, with commercial fishers depleting its marine life and marginal fishers destroying the fragile coral reefs with their use of poison to catch fish.
This year, the municipal government is celebrating the success of local efforts to reverse the decline of coastal fisheries and ecosystems. Through a sustained campaign to promote responsible fishing behavior and enforce fisheries laws, the 10-hectare marine sanctuary has recovered, boasting a high coral cover of 54 percent and even winning an Ocean Heroes award as one of the best marine protected areas (MPAs) in Tañon Strait.
“We conduct annual information campaigns about our ridge-to-reef approach among elementary and high school students, so that while they’re still young, they are already aware of the status of their marine environment and they can sustain our efforts in the future,” said Dionaldo Omole, a member of Amlan’s Fish Forever campaign team.
With mascots Lapi and Polly, the male and female representation of the lapu-lapu or grouper that are abundant in their waters, Amlan is hoping to embark on a school-based campaign against plastics pollution in oceans, together with the youth council.
Having worked with Rare since 2010, Amlan was selected as one of the 17 local government partners in Tañon Strait for the coastal fisheries program Fish Forever. The project aims to enhance the protection of MPAs while ensuring preferential rights for coastal fishers in specially designated zones. In the long term, it is hoped that increased marine abundance would lead to improved livelihoods for communities. Thriving ecosystems would also become more resilient to the impact of climate change, and ensure the survival of threatened species.
Last April, all 17 Fish Forever partners received certificates of recognition after completing the first 18 months of a rigorous program that included profiling of fishers and marine resources, building stronger community organizations, strengthening law enforcement and policy, zoning municipal waters, and crafting plans for better fisheries management. They also conducted social marketing campaigns to ensure that fishers would adopt responsible fishing behavior such as using the proper gear in designated fishing grounds, getting registered, and reporting their fish catch.
“The challenges are real, and the road is not easy,” Rare senior director Adonis Sucalit told the partners during the glittering ceremony last April 6 in Cebu City. “Rare is learning a lot from our partnership, and we believe you can sustain the momentum of your campaign.”
There are plenty of reasons to celebrate, with many of the partners scoring significant gains in their road map towards sustainable fisheries.
The municipalities of Badian, Bais, San Jose, and La Libertad have completed the management plans for their MPAs, with some of them expanding the sizes of fish sanctuaries in line with the results of scientific assessments, and installing marker buoys for no-take zones. In Ginatilan, the MPA and fisheries management plans were integrated in the town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The popular tourist destination of Aloguinsan, which has an award-winning mangrove river ecotourism project, is initiating plans for the newly declared Kantabogon MPA.
Fishers in Amlan, Alegria, Bais and Santa Fe are recording their fish catch to find out if their efforts in protecting their fisheries are bearing fruit. In Alegria, which has four MPAs in four barangays, latest findings show an average fish catch of six kilos per trip, or one kilo higher than the national average. The town of Santa Fe in Bantayan island, a major source of dried fish in Cebu province, has tapped buyers and student interns in monitoring fish landing stations for harvests.
Local government investment in fisheries and law enforcement has increased in several municipalities. Among them is Samboan, which has strengthened cooperation among barangays and fishers during the profiling and fish catch monitoring phase of the project. Protected area rangers and municipal fish wardens from the 17 sites were trained and deputized in cooperation with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Protected Area Office. Fisheries management was included in the 2018 Annual Investment Program and 2017-2022 local development and investment program of La Libertad and Amlan. Meanwhile, the Fish Forever campaign team of Ginatilan reported a hefty increase in funds for coastal fisheries and resource management, from P50,000 to P300,000 per year, in the Annual Investment Program.
Small-scale fisheries inside a protected area
For seven of the partners, their Fish Forever journey will go on to the next stage: the creation of managed access areas for municipal fishers around the marine sanctuaries. This is critical for areas like Amlan, one of the selected sites, where overfishing remains a threat to municipal fisheries. Fortunately, 90 percent of coastal communities favor the idea, says Omole, so their team is confident about the chances of success for the endeavor.
In Negros Oriental, other municipalities that will soon be embarking on legislation for the special fishery management zones are Bais and La Libertad. In Cebu, the selected sites are Aloguinsan, Badian, San Remigio, and Santa Fe. The sites were chosen because of the ecological potential of their municipal waters, socio-economic status, supportive local government units, and high-functioning Fish Forever campaign teams, according to Rare’s Sucalit.
The partners’ gains are taking on greater significance this year, as the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape celebrates its 20th anniversary on May 27. Famous as a biodiversity corridor – particularly for marine mammals – between the islands of Negros and Cebu, the narrow body of water remains under threat from commercial fishers that are illegally encroaching in municipal waters and competing with small-scale fishers for Tañon’s marine bounty.
With its focus on responsible behavior and sustainability, Fish Forever presents a unique opportunity to strike a balance between coastal fisheries and conservation efforts in Tañon Strait. In the last three years, Rare has supported the Protected Area Office, which is in charge of implementing the general management plan approved by the nearly 400-member Protected Area Management Board. Together with civil society and national government partners, Rare is optimistic that local governments can work with Tañon Strait’s management in boosting coastal fisheries inside a protected area.
Rare’s Fish Forever program in Tañon Strait is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies through the Vibrant Oceans Initiative, and the Smartseas project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau and Global Environment Facility-United Nations Development Programme.