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DENR official seeks declaration of Burias-Ticao Pass as marine protected area

The head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Protected Areas and Wildlife and Coastal Zone Management Service (PAWCZMS) in Bicol said his office is recommending to the national government the declaration of Burias and Ticao Passes as a marine protected area to preserve the region’s marine biodiversity.

Al Orolfo, PAWCZMS regional technical director, said the Ticao and Burias Passes are very significant to the Bicol Region, especially Albay, and these bodies of water must be declared as protected seascape owing to their being very rich in marine biodiversity.

“This combined body of water is also the best site for snorkelling with the presence of unique coral reefs and the habitat of the world’s rarest mammals like the megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios), whale sharks, dugong, manta rays and other marine species,” Orolfo said.

The 15-foot megamouth shark that washed ashore in Pioduran, Albay in January is a testament to that the area is rich in biodiversity. (Photo via Rosalinda Sariola)
Dr. Victor Soliman, a Bicolano scientist and professor at the Bicol University College of Fisheries in Tabaco City, meanwhile, said the country’s fishing industry is in crisis and the government should take serious steps to revive the dwindling marine resources.

He said the country’s fishing grounds are almost depleted and it will take time to revive them.

Soliman said that as early as 1981, the major fishing grounds have reached their maximum yields, meaning (they are) overfished.

“The country’s fishing grounds are in critical condition and the government must take rigid measures as the current situation is that we’re managing overfishing instead of managing the fishing industry. A total ban on all commercial fishing operations must be done to protect our seas,’ Soliman said.

The Ticao Pass-San Bernardino Straight-Samar Sea Corridor is one of the country’s bodies of water rich in biodiversity but big-time poachers have been destroying these areas, he lamented.

According to him, the Ticao and Burias Passes, which depths of up to 700 fathoms, are part of the migratory route of whale sharks, the fifth largest fish in the world.

These whale sharks have been found to migrate transnationally through the seas of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Three species of sea turtles (olive ridley, hawksbill and green) have been tagged in the waters around Ticao, according to him.

It is not known whether the turtles utilize the extensive sand beaches of the island for nesting although these beaches appear to offer suitable nesting habitat.

Dugongs have been sighted around Burias; while the San Miguel Pass, which separates Burias and Ticao, is an area where dolphins were plentiful in the past, but recently, a decline in the population of these animals has been noted.

This, Soliman said, could have been possibly due to increased fishing pressure by residents of Baleno municipality on Masbate, who have traditionally hunted cetaceans.

He said the major threats in Bicol waters is encroachment and illegal poaching, mainly by foreign commercial fishing vessels operating in municipal waters, occur frequently; thus, catch levels for commercially-important species are largely unmonitored.

Local fishers are usually hired by commercial poachers.

Blast fishing is still practiced in the area by local fishers and outsiders (though much reduced from prior levels through local enforcement efforts).

The massive poaching in Bicol waters had earlier alarmed top Church officials in Bicol who even demanded President Benigno S. Aquino to intervene to stop illegal fishing in the region.

They even made a letter of appeal signed by the late Archbishop Leonardo Legazpi, Archdiocese of Caceres; Bishop Joey “Bong” Z. Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi; Bishop Jose C. Sorra, Bishop Emeritus of Legazpi; Bishop Lucilo B. Quiambao, auxiliary prelate Emeritus of Legazpi; Bishop Jose Rojas Jr. of Diocese of Libmanan; Bishop Arturo M. Bastes, Diocese of Sorsogon; Bishop Gilbert A. Carcera of Diocese of Daet; Bishop Manolo A. De Los Santos of Diocese of Virac and Bishop Jose Batolo of the Diocese of Masbate.

The Bicol bishops condemned local government authorities in Bicol as, they said, the massive operations of the illegal commercial fishing activities in the western seaboard of Bicol are taking place under the impunity of the public officials as well as law enforcers before Chief Supt. Victor P. Deona became the Bicol regional police director.

The prelates sadly noted that the commercial fishers shamelessly overfish from the municipal waters where the small fishers are gravely affected and could cause serious marine depletion and high prevalence of poverty.

Upon Deona’s assumption as Bicol’s top cop, he directed and enforced a stern marching order to his men: stop illegal logging, drugs, illegal gambling, illegal fishing and loose firearms.

He said Bicol is one of the richest fishing grounds in the country but organized big-time commercial fishing operators in the country are raping the Bicol waters for a long time.

“I assure you that under my watch there will no longer be untouchables in our campaign against illegal fishing in Bicol. We mean business in the PNP’s regional command. We’re happy that Congressman Fernando Gonzalez and the city government of Ligao initiated the anti-illegal fishing drive. We hope that other LGus will follow the same efforts to save our seas as a gift to our children and their children,” Deona said.

At least 237,053 poor families living along Burias pass and Ragay Gulf belong to the poorest municipalities (poverty mapping research in 2006).

In response to the prelates’ letter of appeal, Aquino then directed the Philippine Coast Guard and Maritime Police to strengthen the campaign against big-time illegal fishing activities but the practices did not stop.

The President said that to address the illegal fishing activities in Bicol the people should work together and cooperate with the government’s authorities to apprehend persons involved in trawl fishing activities here.

Mr. Aquino said that law enforcers could not thoroughly address and cover the sea waters of the country specifically in Bicol due to limited resources and mobility.

Among the six provinces of Bicol, however, only the province of Albay leads the way in the effort to save the seas.

The prelates pleaded for the total stoppage of illegal fishing in Bicol.

A peninsula, the Bicol region has a total of 94 coastal municipalities and 1,067 coastal barangays, spread along a coastline that measures up to 3,116.1 kms.

Bicol is blessed with rich marine resources with five major fishing grounds -- Lagonoy Gulf, Ragay Gulf and San Miguel Bay in Camarines Sur; Sorsogon Bay in Sorsogon; and Asid Gulf in Masbate.

Poverty incidence in the fishery sector of the region, however, is the highest in the country, based on the 2014 National Statistics Coordination Board report, with a poverty rate of 41.4 percent—Rhaydz B. Barcia (PNA)

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