“Market refusal has worked in other countries, for a range of commodities,” says WWF-Philippines Vice-Chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. “Beyond this single reaction, however, it is crucial that we think and move holistically, and in public/private convergence, to eliminate the root causes of this lingering problem. The challenge is both national and systemic. The response can be no less.”
The Philippines sits at the apex of the Coral Triangle, a 5.7 million square-kilometer region which spans the seas of six countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. The region provides food and livelihood for some 120 million people yearly.
A single square kilometer of healthy coral reef can keep on producing over 40 metric tons of suno, talakitok and other forms of seafood year on year. Over 27,000 square kilometers of healthy coral reef once blanketed Philippine seas – but 50 years of destructive commercial and poorly managed artisanal fishing has left less than 5 percent in excellent condition. Just 1 percent remains pristine and productivity has begun to wane. The ‘rape’ of Cotabato’s reef is not unique.
Local and international demand for endangered seafood species drives the flourishing illegal marine trade. This is compounded by the apparent reluctance or inability of some public servants to go after those who break the law.
The Philippine archipelago, the world’s second largest, spans over 300,000 square kilometers, with 36,289 kilometers of coastline. “How can you police all of this daily? So long as there are buyers, the reaping shall continue. Yes, front-line enforcement must be in place, driven by local ownership. However, improved and effective local regulation is essential, as well. Needs-based, rather than simply threat-based, interventions are required to drive locally relevant change that transforms people's lives and gives them hope,” says Tan.
“Government can be a catalyst. However, it is private sector involvement that keeps sustainable efforts in place for the long term, maintaining supply chains throbbing and productive. Ultimately, legal and sustainable incomes for local communities are going to be the straw that will break this camel's back.”
WWF says the confiscated hauls from Cebu and Cotabato are merely symptomatic of what has been happening throughout the country - illegal, unregulated and unreported extraction of marine wealth. Not just to icon species such as sea turtles, coral, sharks, tropical hardwoods, Napoleon wrasse, giant clams and whales, but most especially to fish. In almost all commercial fishing areas, fish stocks have been overfished way past maximum sustainable yields. With increasing population and consumption, natural stocks alone will no longer be sufficient to meet the needs of future Filipinos.
“It is said that as many as 40 Million Filipinos depend on fish and seafood as their primary source of protein. How much of the government budget assigned to DA is for sustainable fisheries and new formulas for food security? And, how much of those budgets filter down to the local governments who manage the front lines? Is the private sector being engaged to establish sustainable formulas? Are there any incentives and rewards in place for workable solutions?” asks Tan.
Two separate shipments of CITES-protected black corals, seashells and dried sea turtles with an estimated value of over P50M, were apprehended by Philippine authorities this month. The items were bound for export.
Philippine laws prohibit the gathering, possession, sales or export of ordinary, precious and semiprecious corals. Penalties range from six months to two years in prison and a fine of as much as P500,000.
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