Saturday, November 7, 2015

PRDP eyes 3 key Bicol fishing grounds in biodiversity conservation package
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Nov. 6 (PNA) -- The government is initiating moves to make the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP) a contributor in addressing issues affecting the heavy exploitation of Bicol’s major fishing grounds—Ticao Pass, Burias Pass and San Miguel Bay.

In a statement reaching here Friday, Ferdinand Cruz, PRDP Project Support Office (PSO) South Luzon Natural Resource Management (NRM) specialist, said increased density of fishers and improved gear efficiency render the Philippines’ major bays and gulfs in a heavily-exploited condition.

The same condition prevails while 70 percent of the country’s coral reefs are highly degraded, resulting in a sharp drop in fish biomass target from 10 to five kilograms per 1,000 square meters of fishing ground, Cruz said.

Citing these as the general status of the country’s fishery resources, he said the PDRP is integrating into its institutional reforms package the Php287-million grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to strengthening the coastal and marine resources base in the targeted sites that include the three Bicol inland seas.

The GEF is an international organization that helps address global environmental issues and its Php287-million grant has been included in the overall fund of Php27.535 billion that the PDRP carries in its national implementation.

Other sources of this total fund are the Php20.553-billion World Bank loan, Php3.579 billion in national government counterpart, Php3.118 billion equity of local government units.

The PRDP is a six-year undertaking of the national government being implemented by Department of Agriculture (DA) as a platform for a modern and climate-smart agriculture in Bicol and other parts of the country.

Its coverage involves 80 provinces and agri-fishery stakeholders nationwide where the government wants to realize the goals of improved food security and increased incomes, climate resiliency and enhanced environmental policies and governance.

In six years—2013-2019, the project specifically aims to raise annual real farm incomes of household beneficiaries by five percent, increase the value of annual marketed output by seven percent and ensure that 20 percent more farmers and fishers benefit from DA services. Through the fund integration, the PRDP will also contribute in strengthening marine biodiversity conservation in the Ticao-Burias Pass and San Miguel Bay as well as in other targeted project areas in the country, Cruz said.

The entire Ticao and Burias Passes covering a total area of 414,244 hectares are adjoining inland seas that separate the island-province of Masbate from the Bicol mainland and serve as fishing ground for a total population of 93,943 coastal villagers, 41.4 percent of them languishing in poverty as reported last year by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Apart from its importance as fishing grounds, these waters possess great marine diversity -- being home to whale sharks, manta rays, dugong and various kinds of sea turtles, and lately discovered to be a habitat of the globally rare megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) that are all considered endangered marine species.

The preservation of the diversity of these marine resources is also the subject of a legislative measure being pushed in Congress by Albay 3rd district Rep. Fernando Gonzalez through his bill now pending in the Lower House seeking for the declaration of the Ticao-Burias Pass as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Protected seascapes are among sites of national significance characterized by the harmonious interaction of man and ocean while providing opportunities for public enjoyment through the recreation and tourism within the normal lifestyle and economic activities offered by these areas, Gonzalez explained in his bill.

Gonzalez, whose representation in Congress covers Albay west coast which is along Burias Pass, said that once officially declared as MPA under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), the Ticao-Burias Pass will be placed under the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), a multi-sectoral body which would be created to be responsible for its administration and management.

The PAMB as provided under the NIPAS Act of 1992 shall be composed of the DENR regional executive director, and representatives of local governments and barangays with jurisdictions over areas covered by the MPA, non-government organizations and from other government agencies involved in the protected area management.

“There is indeed an urgent need for the Burias-Ticao Pass to be declared a MPA or a protected seascape to save and preserve its great marine diversity threatened by unabated illegal activities and other abuses,” Gonzalez said.

The San Miguel Bay, on the other hand, is a shallow but productive body of water with a surface area of 840 square-kilometers sitting between the provinces of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur and serving as source of livelihood for around 5,000 impoverished coastal households.

The dilemma being faced by this water body where thousands of small-scale fishers depend for their livelihood is overexploitation, a recent study shows.

Cruz said targeting the Ticao Pass as site for the GEF fund involves the municipal waters covering the municipalities of Magallanes, Matnog, Bulan, Donsol and Pilar of Sorsogon and San Fernando, Batuan, Monreal and San Jacinto of Masbate.

The areas covered by the Burias Pass are the Albay towns of Pioduran, Oas, Libon and the city of Ligao and the towns of Claveria and San Pascual of Burias Island, Masbate.

The first step into the implementation of the GEF-funded PDRP initiative, Cruz said, is the enhancement of the institutional and planning capacities of local government units (LGUs) and communities along these target sites for Bicol which was done through a recent Small Livelihood Project (SLP) Proposal Preparation Workshop conducted in Sorsogon City by the PSO.

It was attended by municipal agriculturist officers (MAOs), agricultural technicians, and representatives from various people’s organizations in the area that were updated on the value-chain analysis (VCA) for seaweeds.

Cruz said that the SLPs under PRDP aim to provide an alternative source of income to communities along the target sites to encourage them to do away with illegal fishing, regulate activities within the proposed MPA and conserve biodiversity.

“The areas involved are very strategic in terms of biodiversity conservation and our objective is to increase biomass in project areas by 10 percent and boost the level of management effectiveness of the LGUs,” he added. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/RSM