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Monday, 24 December, 2001, 22:43 GMT
Philippine fishermen fight back
Fish warden on patrol
Fishermen are learning to stand up for their rights
By the BBC's Simon Ingram in Mabini, central Philippines

Weary but elated, Philippines fisherman Adi Linomonson climbs from his tiny wooden fishing skiff, clutching his prize: six gleaming tuna and mullet.

It is his reward for a long night's work in the coastal waters of Bohol island.

If the illegal fishing is allowed to go on, it will destroy everything

Kiko Lumantao, lawyer
For Adi, fishing is not so much a job as a means of existence.

He is one of about 100,000 subsistence fishermen in Bohol who are fighting for survival in the face of fierce competition from commercial fishing trawlers, and from practitioners of illegal and destructive methods of killing fish that include the use of dynamite and cyanide.

As recently as the 1980s, a fisherman working for two hours with no more than a hook and line could expect to bring home 20 kilograms of fish from the rich seas around Bohol.

Survival scheme

Today, men like Adi Linomonson are lucky to catch as much as 2kg during a whole night. Many fish species have disappeared altogether.

Subsistence fisherman in Mabini repairs his boat engine
The small fishermen just want to feed their families
"I've been lucky today," says Adi. "The money I get from these fish will keep my family in rice and other provisions for a week or more.

"But the catches aren't what they were, because of the commercial boats we see out there every day, breaking the law."

Protecting resources

Now, in their struggle for survival, the subsistence fishermen have new allies. Under a scheme backed by the government and supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a series of coastal management schemes are being established around Bohol.

My business is being damaged

Elmar Chavez, commercial fisherman
The fishermen are being taught not just about the need to protect the seas and coastline, but about asserting their rights to make a sustainable living from its much-diminished resources.

Lawyer Kiko Lumantao is one of the men helping empower a community that had seemed on the brink of ruin. He has been sent by the Environmental Legal Assistance Centre (ELAC) to set up a small office in the eastern village of Mabini, one of the poorest and most remote fishing settlements in Bohol.

He teaches the fishermen that under the current law, they have the right to stop and apprehend trawlers caught operating inside a 15 kilometre-wide coastal zone extending from Mabini municipality.

"We really have to do something, because if the illegal fishing is allowed to go on, it will destroy everything," he says. "There'd be no hope for communities like this."

'Trouble ahead'

The get-tough policy seems to be working. At anchor in Mabini's little harbour sit five trawlers impounded by court order for the last few months.

Subsistence fisherman  heads for sea in the waters off Bohol island
Fish stocks are dwindling
"They're not allowed within the municipal waters, and that is their first violation," says Mr Mumantao. "And then they're using this active fishing gear". He points to large, weighted nets piled on the decks of each craft. "That's another violation."

Marine biologists like Stuart Green, a Briton working with the Coastal Resource Management Project says the scheme could be the last chance to save local tuna and other fish stocks, and thereby preserve a whole way of life.

"It's all about giving preferential access for the small fishermen to those fish, so they can supply food for their table," says Mr Green. "Twenty-five per cent of the labour force here depends on full-time fishing.

"And about 60% of the animal protein needed to feed this population comes from the sea. I think that says it enough."


But the commercial fishermen are far from happy. In his boatyard in the town of Tagbileran, proprietor Elmar Chavez warns darkly of trouble.

His fleet of four trawlers has been impounded several times for violating municipal laws - a strategy Mr Chavez says threatens disaster for the fishing industry.

"My business is being damaged," Mr Chavez says. "We're running into big debts, and we can't cope with the running expenses."

He says that enforcing the 15km exclusion zone threatens the livelihoods of his crews - ordinary folk just like the subsistence fishermen.

"I think the government should make an option for these people, because as of now, we're getting hungry, the people are getting hungry," says Mr Chavez.

It is not a claim that elicits much sympathy from the activists. They say it is precisely because of the unscrupulous and illegal practices of the commercial trawlers that the fishing grounds and coral reefs around Bohol have been so devastated.

See also:

18 Dec 01 | Europe
Europe slashes fishing quotas
18 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Analysis: The EU fisheries dilemma
18 Dec 01 | Europe
Q&A: Europe's fishing row
17 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
EU fisheries 'face collapse'
23 Oct 01 | Scotland
Oceans summit tackles sea stocks
29 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
China blamed for over-fishing errors
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: The Philippines
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