U.S. and Philippines combat illegal fishing

Local fishers in Southern Mindanao, Philippines, can now sell their catch for a higher price without threatening fish stock in the area, thanks to a U.S.-Philippines partnership.

Dozens of small fishing vessels in the region are using monitoring equipment provided by a Philippines-based technology company called the Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The transponders capture and transmit “traceability data” such as where the fish are caught and the weight and type of fish.

Armed with documentation showing their fish were caught in a legal and sustainable manner, the fishers can now meet the strict requirements that allow them to sell on the international market and earn a higher price for their catch.

The transponders also have a safety feature that allows fishers to message friends and family onshore and permits family members to track their location while out at sea.

“For many years, vessel-tracking technology has had numerous benefits for governments and nongovernmental organizations, with far fewer direct and tangible benefits for the fishers themselves,” the head of Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise, Arcelio Fetizana, told USAID in 2018.

“FAME has worked hard to incorporate features into our transponders that benefit the fishers that use them,” said Fetizana.

For more fish, ‘Fish Right’

Hands pouring water from a can over fresh fish arranged on trays (© Ezra Acayan/NurPhoto/Corbis/Getty Images)
A fish market south of Manila in 2014. Around 60 percent of the Filipino population lives in coastal zones and depends on coastal resources for their livelihoods. (© Ezra Acayan/NurPhoto/Corbis/Getty Images)

The transponders are just one recent example of a long-standing U.S.-Philippines partnership to combat overfishing and protect the South China Sea and other waters. In fact, for more than 20 years the U.S. has supported the Philippines’ marine conservation, resulting in a 24 percent increase in the number and size of fish in the area.

This matters to an island nation where more than half of the population relies on the country’s enormous fishing industry for their livelihood.

In November 2018, USAID launched a $25 million project called Fish Right that aims to improve marine biodiversity, strengthen fish management and governance, and increase the number and weight of fish in the Calamianes Islands, the Visayan Sea and the South Negros region of the Philippines.

“We are at the forefront of the country’s fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which to this day continues to imperil marine and aquatic resources and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of fisherfolk,” said Eduardo B. Gongona, an official with the Philippines Department of Agriculture, at the launch of the project with U.S. Embassy officials in November 2018.

“The U.S. government is committed to work alongside you in this crucial endeavor,” said U.S. Embassy in the Philippines Deputy Chief of Mission John Law.