Preserving the ocean’s bounty for Filipino fishers

Fishing provides a livelihood for more than 1.6 million Filipino fishers and their families, and their catch is a staple of the Philippine diet as well as a driver of the country’s economy.

But that way of life faces threats from overfishing, destructive and illegal fishing practices such as dynamiting, and loss of coral reefs, mangroves and other habitat.

A $25 million, five-year USAID grant seeks to counteract those threats and benefit up to 2 million Filipinos in 39 coastal municipalities in the Calamianes Island group, Southern Negros and Visayan Sea.

USAID has long partnered with Philippine environmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations to help Filipino fishers cope with these challenges. This latest effort exemplifies what U.S. assistance in emerging markets always strives for: to create jobs and grow local economies without burdening them with debt.

The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands with one of the world’s richest and most diverse concentrations of marine life. But that bounty is not endless.

Even with 1,800 marine protected areas, it’s a constant struggle for small fishing communities to protect their waters from both natural threats and commercial trawlers that pull in large catches offshore.

The Philippines registered nearly 250,000 municipal fishing vessels in 2017, more than a third using sails or oars, not motors. The offshore commercial fleet of 3,500 boats is much smaller but hauls in about as much fish.

Hands reaching into bowls and basins of fish (Romwell Mari Sanchez for USAID/Philippines)
Fishers sort a catch of sardines and other small fish. (Romwell Mari Sanchez for USAID/Philippines)

The project

The Fish Right program is managed by the Coastal Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island, which runs USAID sanctuary projects around the globe.

The goal is to rebuild fish “biomass” — either bigger fish or more fish — by 10 percent and help fishing folk escape poverty.

It explicitly seeks to “ensure that women and other marginalized groups benefit and participate as equals” in making small fishing communities more resilient.

Currently, when harvests are low, “women in fishing households bear the burden of diversifying the family’s income by gleaning and engaging in piecemeal jobs,” the Coastal Resource Center says.

Glenn Ricci, a project manager, says the stakes are clear: “How do you sustainably manage and harvest fish so there’s plenty today but even more tomorrow?”