With $11.9-B maritime sector, ‘blue economy needs push’

Negros Occidental 3rd District Rep. Jose Francisco B. Benitez
Negros Occidental 3rd District Rep. Jose Francisco B. Benitez

To maximize the economic and social benefits of Philippine maritime industries, lawmakers called on the national government to prioritize programs that promote blue economy in the interest of national economic security.

Citing the National State of Ocean and Coasts during the initial deliberations on House Bill No. 69 on Tuesday, Rep. Jose Francisco “Kiko” Benitez of Negros Occidental said maritime industries in the country were worth $11.9 billion in 2016.

“Our maritime domains compose 88 percent of our territory. Sixty percent of Filipinos live in coastal communities. So it is crucial to maximize the economic and social benefits of our maritime industries, which include fisheries, shipping and tourism—and this requires strong commitment and action from concerned government agencies,” Benitez said.

“The Philippines is already a powerhouse maritime economy, given our geography, history and culture, but who benefits from the blessings of the seas?” Benitez added in a separate statement.

Blue economy is a framework for sustainable development of marine and coastal resources, based on principles of stewardship and social responsibility, the Negros legislator explained.

“Our maritime economy has great potential to accelerate our full economic recovery from the pandemic and support sustained economic growth. But we need a whole-of-society, whole-of-government approach to ensure that development does not destroy our marine and coastal ecosystems,” Benitez said.

House Bill 69, if passed into law, will strengthen interagency coordination and planning to identify best use of our maritime zones, including our EEZ, promote blue finance or funding for special economic zones concentrating on sustainable and strategic maritime industries, and enhance maritime domain awareness to flag threats to our marine environment, including unauthorized access, overexploitation and pollution.

Focus on aquaculture

For his part, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Joey Sarte Salceda told Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Director Demosthenes Escoto during a recent meeting of the House Committee on Aquatic Resources and Fisheries that the agency should focus more on aquaculture development as a way to ensure the country’s fish supply.

Salceda said that as long as the country remains reliant on captured fish, which can be highly variable, for its supply, it will remain dependent on imports and fish smuggling.

“You can’t kill smuggling if you can’t address domestic shortage. You need to produce enough food to totally curb smuggling. And for fisheries, the only path is aquaculture,” he said.

Salceda pointed to figures suggesting that the Philippines is among the few large countries that depends nearly as much on captured fish as it does on aquaculture. Salceda emphasized that “China already relies on aquaculture for 78 percent of its fish, despite our West Philippine Sea concerns.”

Salceda also cited a Food and Agriculture Organization report, “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020” which states that “the percentage of fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels have decreased from 90 percent in 1974 to 65.8 percent in 2017.”

“That means that the world’s oceans, at some point, could begin failing to produce enough fish for the world’s needs. So we really need to do aquaculture and mariculture,” he said.

Salceda told Escoto that the BFAR should invest not only in legislated hatcheries, but “complete the value chain” of aquaculture, through nurseries, research and investments on cheaper fish feed, logistics, processing, and marketing.

“We have about 54 legislated hatcheries, 9 of which have been completed. But the hatchery won’t work so much if the value chain isn’t complete. So, we need a more holistic approach to aquaculture – including the vertical and horizontal linkages,” he added.

Salceda also prodded the BFAR to take a more active role in promoting the so-called “Blue Economy.”

“In the Pagtanaw 2050, a guiding vision crafted by some of the country’s leading scientists, the most potent recommendation is the development of the Blue Economy—or our maritime economy. BFAR is at the heart of that economy,” he said.

“BFAR has a critical role in science-based development of that economy. For example, fisheries contribute just 2 percent of the pollution in Laguna de Bay. So, to protect the lake, what you would do is reduce flow of waste to the lake, not close down fisheries. BFAR has a key role in those decisions,” Salceda added.


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