Support reef conservation, Palawan gov tells reef-fish-for-food industry

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez has urged reef-fish-for-food (RFF) stakeholders to join the law enforcement authorities in their continuing crackdown on illegal fishing that destroys coral reefs and imperils the sustainability of their industry.

Alvarez made the call on Tuesday, January 17, during the implementation review on the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Administrative Order No. 5 (PCSD AO 5) or the policy regulating the province’s lucrative yet threatened RFF industry. RFF traders, catchers, and other stakeholders attended the event.

“We all know if we lose our corals, it will also result to the disappearance of Suno, right? Palawan’s increasing population has put a lot of pressure to our coral reefs. Through the years it has been abused and destroyed, primarily due to cyanide and dynamite fishing; so it’s high time to start taking care of our ocean,” said Alvarez, who also chairs the multi-sectoral and intergovernmental body PCSD.

The much sought-after reef fish Red Grouper, also known as Leopard Coral Trout (Plectropomus leopardus), is regulated under the PCSD AO 5, which aims to address its dwindling stocks by imposing size restriction and seasonal control.

The provincial government, under Alvarez, formed the Provincial Law Enforcement Task Force, a composite team tasked to run those who engage in activities that harm the environment.

Alvarez stressed that Palawan is so huge that it requires the participation of the coastal communities in combatting illegal fishing.

“We can’t do all the work. If we’re all agreeing to the goal of safeguarding our seas, then we’re letting our children and the incoming generations to enjoy our marine resources,” he said.

Alvarez further instructed municipal governments and the PCSD Staff (PCSDS) to address the concerns of the stakeholders to improve the RFF industry.

Despite the fact that Palawan focuses on coastal tourism, majority of its coral reefs are not as healthy as some imagine them to be, according to Glenda Cadigal, PCSDS Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) Coastal-Marine Unit chief.

Cadigal noted that 30.3% and 21.1% of the province’s coral reefs were marked “fair” and “poor,” respectively. She said it was observed in the northern Palawan island towns of Cuyo, Agutaya, Magsaysay, Araceli, Busuanga, Coron; and in the mainland towns of San Vicente, El Nido, and Puerto Princesa City.

To address the problem, she said the PCSDS, in partnership with local government units, continues to map the ECAN zone of municipal waters, while doing coral rehabilitation programs and establishing more marine protected areas through the help of partner agencies and organizations.

Only 2.1% of the reefs remain in “excellent” condition, while 24% in “very good” and 22.5% in “good” conditions, Cadigal added. She said the coral reef condition in the southern Palawan mainland towns of Brooke’s Point, Quezon and Rizal, and Roxas, Taytay and Culion towns in the north were either maintained or showed improvement.

Cadigal said that according to a scientific study, Palawan’s reef areas, if managed sustainably, could give the province a whopping yearly income of about P31 billion through fisheries and tourism industries. “So if we don’t protect it, these would also be our losses,” she said.

Alvarez said the provincial government could allot funds for coral rehab. Another option, he added, is to put up a trust fund where a big chunk of it would be set aside for the said activity.

"Let's use the government money for coral rehab, which will eventually redound to the recovery of corals and sustainability of our fisheries," he said.

The governor added he would create a law enforcement unit in every municipality involving RFF industry frontliners, particularly catchers, by organizing them under the Palawan Rescue 165. This is to run after those who engage in illegal fishing using dynamite, cyanide, compressors, and high negative impact gears. Rappler.com