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EDITORIAL: Tragedy of the Commons

THE latest Fisheries Statistics of the Philippines released by the Philippine Statistics Authority unravels a gloomy tale: The volume of fisheries production in one of the largest maritime countries in the world is declining steadily. Worse, this steady decline is hitting Bicol Region hard.

If every coastal municipality, not just in Bicol, will not cooperate and act fast on this emergency, we will have to grapple with the bigger problem of not being able to feed thousands of small-scale fishers and their families sooner.

It is true, one of the most heavily exploited fishing grounds in the Philippines surrounds the region and overfishing is the culprit.

Oceana Philippines, a non-profit conservation group, says overfishing is threatening even the highly resilient species such as sardines. The Environmental Justice Atlas, another conservation movement, adds that illegal fishing practices and governmental indifference also worsen the situation.

The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 is not deficient in providing for the management and conservation of fisheries and marine resources in the country and in penalizing violators. Over the years, however this law is failing badly in saving our seas. Thanks to half-hearted if not haphazard implementation.

Large trawling boats, for instance, continue to ply illegally the municipal waters and other grounds where they should not, and their continued presence in prohibited areas suggest that law enforcers are turning a blind eye.

Meanwhile, conservation efforts are left largely in the hands of cause-oriented private organizations, which do not have enough funding and do not have the mandate to urge committed and long-lasting community support. Protecting the sea that feeds the population, seemingly, is not the priority of local governments especially the coastal ones, and even when it is, the effort is seldom collaborative.

History is not in dearth of examples that prove that even the most seemingly unlimited resource can be depleted—that even the sea can die—when we just reap the bounty without thinking about sustainability.

In Camarines Sur, for instance, fish catch in San Miguel Bay is dwindling for decades. Yet, no intergovernmental effort has ever been mounted to save the dying lifeline, which is open to anyone who can fish over the years amid lack of concerted efforts to conserve and manage what the bay can give.

Our seas will not die out tomorrow. It may take a century before we catch the last tuna in Lagonoy Gulf, the last anchovy in Ragay Gulf, or the last trevally in Albay Gulf. But if we will not work together to combat overfishing and illegal fishing practices, and to allocate funds for the conservation of our marine resources and to do something actually towards that cause, we are going in that direction in no time.

We all want a piece of our seas but we do not have systems in place to ensure that what sustains us all will continue to be productive for so long. This is the tragedy of the commons.


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