Alarming conditions of the commonly traded reef-fish-for-food or RFFs, particularly the Leopard Coral Trout or Grouper locally known as suno, has led to the proposal of amending the existing regulatory mechanism governing it, the Administrative Order No.5, series of 2000.
Studies have shown that there is a steady decline in the fish production annually within the last decade due to unsustainable and destructive fishing practices. The mean size of fish collected is getting smaller and exploitation rates indicate serious overfishing which poses ecological risks for the stocks or population of the vulnerable suno. Also, the fishermen attest that they have to go farther even beyond their municipal waters, to catch these RFFs resulting in longer fishing trips. This, according to scientists, is in direct correlation to the degraded conditions of the coral reefs which serve as their habitat and spawning grounds. This, despite the implementation of the AO5.
This prompted the conduct of a series of public consultations to refer with the industry players on how to address this issue. The first public consultation was held last July 22, 2014 at the VJR hall of the Provincial Capitol. It was attended by more than three hundred participants, ranging from fishermen, traders, carriers, non-government organizations, the academe, Municipal Mayors and the respective members of their Sanguniang Bayan, members of the Sanguniang Panlalawigan, representatives from the City Government of Puerto Princesa and the Provincial Govenment of Palawan, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – Palawan, Department of Agriculture – Palawan, among others. This consultation was followed by two more consultations where representatives of key players participated as members of the organized Technical Working Group (TWG).
The Chairman of PCSD and Governor of Palawan, Jose C. Alvarez, addressed participants and he conveyed to them the strong support of the Provincial Government for the revision of the said AO. He said that the Provincial Government of Palawan is also cognizant of the alarming state of the RFF industry and they seek the help of the stakeholders to reverse and improve the situation as well as to formulate the program of action to solve this critical situation.
During the first public consultation, initially, two policy options were proposed. The first is to implement a ban on live fish catching and trading, the purpose of which is for the target fish to be able to re-populate and to let their habitat recover. However, the ban would displace at least 4,100 catchers of RFF as well as the traders in the province. The second option is to implement a quota system which would set a limit on the total annual allowable catch. This system will prevent overharvesting, and coral reefs and its ecosystem will be able to regenerate. However, these options were rejected by both the traders and fishermen. And during the deliberations of the breakout groups, they all came up with a third option and that is the Seasonal Control through an Open-and-Close Season.
Participants also suggested other points that needed to be reviewed and/or be included in the amendments, as follows:
1) Imposition of size limits on live RFF caught and traded in the province;
2) Inclusion of the “patay-patay” or fresh reef fish business;
3) Prohibition of fish caging for growing out (“fattening”) LRFF caught in the wild;
4) Setting up of an “Environmental Fund”, its collection, utilization and other management mechanisms;
5) Simplifying the processing of permits and other processes;
6) Provide funding for the development and implementation of the program and initiate sharing of technology and best practices on hatcheries and other mariculture programs to aid the shift from LRFF from the wild to sustainable LRFFI;
7) Provide additional source(s) of income to marginal fishermen; and
8) Lifting of the moratorium for new players of the RFF;
At the end of the first public consultation, all of the stakeholders and participants signed a Manifesto of Commitment to support: 1) Environmental Management, including participation in the implementation of the policy and ordinance that will govern the industry; 2) Investing in the “Environmental Trust Fund”; 3) Investing in livelihood programs; and 4) Uniting the whole industry.
The second and third public consultations were held on August 14 and September 15, 2014 respectively, attended by members of the TWG. It recommend measures based on scientific studies and findings related to the alarming state of the live reef fish industry in the province. They discussed the solutions and inclusion of the key issues raised during the previous consultations.
After the last consultation, the TWG finalized and approved the Revised Regulatory and Program Framework managing the RFF industry through a resolution for endorsement to PCSD for consideration. On October 2014 meeting of the PCSD, the Revised AO 5 was approved, and consequently publication of the approved AO followed.