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FISHERIES MANAGEMENT. A fisherman (not seen) in the top photo inspects fish caught using the beach seine method at the coastal waters of Tanauan, Leyte, the Philippines, in this October 26, 2022 file photo. In the bottom photo, fishermen pull their nets using the same method. Non-governmental organizations are working with the government to adopt science-based, sustainable fishing practices. (AP Photos/Aaron Favila, File)

Fish are laid out to dry at a beach in Tanauan, Leyte, the Philippines, in this October 27, 2022 file photo. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

From The Asian Reporter, V33, #5 (May 1, 2023), page 5.

Philippines tries to bring back small fish key to rural diet

By Joeal Calupitan and Patrick Whittle

The Associated Press

TANAUAN, Leyte, The Philippines ó The Philippines, a nation made up of thousands of islands, is home to about 1.6 million people who work in fisheries, and the majority of those fishers are small-scale harvesters who collectively catch almost half of the nationís fish.

Years of market pressures, lack of fisheries management, and unchecked overfishing from larger commercial fishers have led to a decline in small fish such as sardines that rural coastal communities in the country of about 110 million people depend on. Data is not available on the state of many fish stocks, but the conservation group Oceana has said more than 75% of the nationís fishing grounds are depleted.

The problem of overfishing is especially detrimental to the countryís poorest people, many of whom earn their livings by fishing, said Ruperto Aleroza, an anti-poverty activist who has spent decades harvesting small fish like sardines and round scad from the waters around the archipelago. The small fish are important to the diet in parts of the Philippines where other sources of protein are not available, he said. The fish are used in traditional dishes such as kinilaw, a raw fish dish similar to ceviche.

"We fisherfolk are the second to the poorest in our country" behind only farmers, Aleroza said.

The challenge overfishing poses to people who earn their living from the sea and who count on fish for protein in their diet is being experienced throughout the world. As overfishing is impacting kinilaw in the Philippines, itís affecting traditional dishes and ways of life in places such as the Bahamas, where scientists and government officials worry the commercial fishing of conch, a marine snail central to the diet and identity of the island nation, may soon no longer be feasible. And in Senegal, overfishing has largely wiped out white grouper, long the basis for the national dish of thieboudienne.

Aleroza blames years of poor fishing management and unsustainable fishing practices for taking away both a way of life and a key source of protein for some of this nationís poorest people.

"It is threatening the local food source. We canít feed our family. And itís worsening poverty of artisanal fishers," he said. "The overfishing worsens economic depression among us."

Recently, the country has begun to make strides in rebuilding fisheries with spawning closures, said Mudjekeewis Santos, a scientist with the Philippines Department of Agricultureís National Fisheries Research and Development Institute.

"And the communities are happy that happened, because their catch increased," he said. "Fish donít care about jurisdiction, and theyíre being decimated."

But there is much work left to be done, Santos said.

Non-governmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) are working with the Philippines government to adopt science-based, sustainable fishing practices, said Edwina Garchitorena, who leads those efforts for EDF in the country.

The problem goes beyond small fish. The loss of small, ocean-going fish such as anchovies is also devastating for larger fish, which eat the small fish, she said.

Garchitorena and others blamed the over-exploitation of larger fish species to meet international demand, which she said increased fishing pressure on the smaller fish stocks that live closer to the coast.

"Weíve systematically reduced every type of fish in the ocean," she said.

Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. This story was supported by funding from the Walton Family Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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