Tañon Strait LGUs, stakeholders strengthen enforcement plan

In Photo: More than 50 million Filipinos depend on fish for food. The Philippines is the 11th producer of wild-caught fish in the world. As the center of marine biodiversity in the world, it holds the responsibility to save its oceans to ensure the protection of diverse marine habitats, and secure sustainable seafood supply for the future.

CONCERNED government agencies, local government units (LGUs), fishing industry stakeholders and civil-society organizations (CSOs) reviewed and strengthened on Tuesday an enforcement plan to protect Tañon Strait from commercial, illegal and destructive fishing operations.

The recent Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS) Enforcement Summit reviewed and identified gaps to strengthen the Tañon Strait enforcement plan, and forge their respective commitments to strongly implement the plan in the next several years. The summit, attended by more than 120 participants, was held in Cebu.

“The participants represent key people in enforcement and respective agencies that are crucial in operationalizing the enforcement plan for Tañon Strait,” said Daniel Ocampo, campaigns manager of Oceana Philippines, one of the summit organizers.

“It was inspiring to hear the different regional heads speak and give their respective commitments to supporting the enforcement of fisheries laws in Tañon Strait,” Ocampo said.

One of the country’s major fishing grounds, Tañon Strait lies between Cebu and Negros. It was declared as a protected seascape in 1988.

However, despite its declaration, commercial, illegal and destructive fishing operations still abound, depriving small fishermen in Cebu and Negros to benefit from its bounty. Tañon Strait is the largest marine-protected area (MPA) in the Philippines with an area of 5,182 square kilometers, more than three times the area of the Tubbataha National Park in Palawan. It is 160 kilometers long, and 5 km to 27 km wide. It is home to dolphins, whales, sharks and manta rays, and many other species.

Concerted efforts in recent years to protect Tañon Strait from commercial and illegal-fishing operations have scored modest accomplishments.

As a result, “Tañon is slowly gaining reputation nationally and internationally on protection, management and enforcement,” said Dr. Al Orolfo, Negros Island regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in his message during the summit’s opening program at a hotel in Cebu on December 6.

“Efforts to protect Tañon Strait should be sustained,” said Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)  Central Visayas Director Emma Melana, as she emphasized the role of their agency in safeguarding the biodiversity of Tañon Strait.

Director Allan Poquita of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Central Visayas said the bureau will provide full support to the TSPS protected area office and the DENR and local government units to ensure that enforcement in Tañon Strait are sustained.

BFAR’s support includes a donation of two patrol boats to the TSPS protected area office to help in the monitoring and apprehension of commercial and illegal-fishing operators in Tañon Strait. In this regard, a ceremonial signing of a memorandum of agreement was held during the summit.

TSPS Protected Area Supt. Prospero Am Lendio presented the approved general management plan of Tañon Strait, as well as the proposed measurers for the operationalization of the enforcement plan. The participants reviewed and refined it, providing their inputs and commitments to implement it in the near future.

The TSPS protected-area office and all other MPAs nationwide are under the supervision of the DENR under its Biodiversity Management Bureau. Other officials who served as resource persons during the summit were Assistant Regional Director Elias Fernandez Jr. of the Department of the Interior and Local Government Central Visayas. He emphasized the important role of LGUs as stewards of the environment, and the protection of Tañon Strait is clearly in their mandate.

Supt. Agustin D. Molina, chief of the Philippine National Police Regional Maritime Group 7, who as one of the front liners in enforcement activities, ensured they will actively participate in implementing the enforcement plan on Tañon Strait.

Staunch environmental lawyer lawyer Antonio Oposa enjoined participants to the singing of “What a Wonderful World” as a way to encourage all to make our world a better place to live in.

Other summit attendees included representatives from the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Navy, Army, National Bureau of Investigation, deputized park rangers and fish wardens; LGU officials from Tañon Strait coastal towns in Cebu and Negros, and from Siargao; Ocean Heroes finalists and awardees; and other CSOs, such as Tambuyog Development Center, Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Zoological Society of London and Environment Law Assistance Center.

Image Credits: Daniel Ocampo