TRANSCRIPTS - Dr. Geronimo Silvestre
Silvestre is a Research Scientist at the International Center
for Living Aquatic Resource Management (ICLARM) in the Philippines.
How do fisheries fare throughout the Philippines?
Philippines, there is, overall, country-wide, a lot of over fishing
There is, in
the commercial fisheries in excess, of about, 50% of fishing effort,
currently, leading to tremendous losses for the fisheries.
Could you speak about some of the problems in fisheries management
that are faced by the Philippines?
We are faced,
in reference to Philippine fisheries, with very serious problems.
We have a lot of over fishing going on. The fishing effort, in most
of the fisheries, in the country, is often times 30% to 50% above
that what is necessary to be able to harvest the magnitude of catches
that corresponds to maximum sustainable yields. There is a lot of
excessive fishing pressure and a need, obviously, for the country,
to be able to reduce the excessive pressure, cut down by about a
third to about half of the current levels. We face a lot of problems
relative to destructive fishing methods. Fishing methods that are
not consistent with sustainable fishing practices. There are a lot
of dynamite fishing going on. There is plenty of fish poisoning
going on to bring in the catches. We are faced with problems of
extensive trolling in the near shore habitats and the process damaging
important hatcheries and productive near shore grounds. Together
with this we are faced with problems of immense conflicts between
the small scale and the large scale fishery sector. Equity problems
that should be addressed for the purpose of optimizing the benefits
for the greater number of fishers involved in the sector.
There is a lot
of post harvest losses being incurred, and estimates are about 30%
of the landings are being lost to either the physical losses of
spoilage and tremendous losses of value also, because of the heat
of the tropical sun, you match up with this a lot of pressures outside
the sector itself. We see a lot of pollution going on. We see a
lot of habitat degradation happening. Reefs are being blasted. Poisons
are being used, causing tremendous damage to the reefs that are
important to the productivity of the coastal fishing grounds. We
see a lot of mangrove cutting happening, for use as firewood, for
example. And also for conversion to aquaculture purposes.
to this are quite evident from the issues. We have to reduce effort.
We have to stop destructive fishing methods. We have to have better
marketing facilities and post harvest handling facilities. We have
to be able to enforce the regulations that limit the small-scale
fishing grounds from the large-scale fishing grounds. But the current
institutions are currently incapable of enforcing these regulations
in the field.
We have them
legislated; we have the laws. We know what the problems are and
we know often times what the solutions are. The question, and the
main challenge to us is, in addressing these problems, we will have
to be able to improve the national institutional capabilities for
them to be able to put in place, integrated sets of actions to address
the issues at various levels. Therefore, when we talk about resources
mobilization we, we face in the developing world context, a lot
of problems related to development, social problems. They are equally
pressing developing and social needs, that fisheries issues
have to compete with. And therefore, this is a serious challenge
The high population
growth rates, in our part of the world is not helping any bit. And
we would need serious assistance in this line to be able to reduce
the pressure on the fishery resources that we benefit from.
All these are
negative factors to my mind that are, impacting the ability of developing
countries like the Philippines to be able to mobilize the resources
that are necessary to improve national capabilities and then put
in place the necessary solutions and programs of action to resolve
the multifaceted issues that we face.
Is nature debt a factor?
In the Philippines,
after the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown and Aquino government
was there, we were paying, at the time around the mid 1980s, almost
about 50% of our export receipts went to servicing the national
debt. But efforts by subsequent administrations, after Aquino, allowed
us to be able to reduce this substantively. I think, at the current
levels we are paying only about, between 5-10% of our export receipts
to be able to service the national debt, which is now running at
40 billion dollars. It is a substantive sum. It is something that
could be better used for many of the development and social problems
that we face, and therefore, giving the fishing sector a greater
chance to harness some of that pot and throw them at the problems
that we face.
The same is
true for many of the countries in the Asian region. Indonesia has
a large external debt. Thailand has a large external debt. Many
of the developing countries in the Asian region are faced with these
external debts. The seriousness of the problem, evidently, has decreased
in the past decade, as compared to, say the mid 80s. But it
still is a major issue that must be and we will continue to face
limitations in our ability, at the national level, to face up to
the problems that we face.
You were just talking about the notion of developing countries thinking
that their problems are theirs alone. You were saying that developing
countries need to understand that biodiversity is a global issue.
Could you speak more about that?
I think that
the developed countries have a stake in the problems we in the developing
world face. We cannot be left alone to face the issues, given the
limited resources that we have. There has to be concerted action
at the international level.
is a heritage of mankind; it is a global problem and it requires
global efforts for us to make, be able to put in place the scale
of interventions that are necessary to be able to moderate the problems
or at, or reverse them for that matter. It is a global heritage
that is at stake and therefore, the developed world has to share
in the burden of facing up to that problem.
What do you believe are the main causes of overfishing in the developing
the Philippines, over fishing results from, to my mind, the lack
of alternative livelihoods in the rural areas. I think over fishing,
in our context, is a consequence of the overall economic situations
we see in the rural areas the lack of economic opportunities,
landlessness, poverty in those regions. Fishing, in that context
is an occupation of last resort. There are no limits to entry in
those fisheries, and therefore, it is the easiest thing for the
rural poor to be able to learn a decent livelihood for their families.
Given that as a context, the high population growth rates that we
have is not helping us in any way to address the problem of over
fishing. Because we see tremendous numbers of young people entering
the workforce every year.
problem is a main driving force also. It is something that we have
recognized a long times ago. Enormous numbers we added to the labor
force every year. But in essence, the population problem seems to
be an intractable one for us. There are social limits to what we
There are religious
undertones to what the government, in terms of programs, can execute
to be able to reverse, or at least moderate the population growth
that we see in the rural areas. So, to me overfishing is, is a social
problem. It is an economic problem. It is, to my mind, also, a political
problem. The lack of opportunities that you see in the rural setting
emanates from the way the factors of production are distributed
across the general population. When you have 10% of the country
producing 90% of the GNP, then you are facing tremendous problems
in the ownership of the productive capabilities of an economy.
to me is just a symptom of the underlying political problems that
we should be facing the social problems that we should be
facing up to, the economic problems that we are facing up to.
Unless we get
that political will and that social awareness that we must be able
to address the underlying problems of inequity both in the
political sphere and in the economic sphere, to correct the social
repercussions that we see, in terms of poverty, then we might as
well give up the fight, if we do not face up to the underlying causes
of the problem.
To what extent do Phillipine pelagic fisheries depend on fishing
on foreign waters or on joint ventures with other nations?
We know it is
substantive but nobody has real figures to back up how substantive
small pelagic fisheries, for example, the fishing for mackerels
and stuff for anchovies is grossly over fished. The
current levels of fishing effort are estimated to be about, between
30%-60% in excess of what is necessary, to be able to harvest the
potential production that the resources can sustain. But given the
declining catch rates associated with that over fishing, and given
that we are able to keep the supply steady, then there are given
inputs from the private fishing sector, there is tremendous fishing
down south, in the Indonesian areas.
for tunas, for example, is also not so healthy in terms of the state
of the resources. The major tuna, yellowfin and skip jack, given
more recent scientific studies say, that they are also heavily fished
in Philippine waters. Our friends in the commercial fishing industries
tell us that they have been fishing all the way down south to Papua
New Guinea, given private arrangements with Indonesian local authorities,
minus government formal treaties. They they would say, "leave
the government out. The negotiations with the, with the Indonesians
will just, when put on an official level will become more complicated,
so let, let, just leave us alone." So, we understand that a
substantive portion of the large pelagic catches, at least of tunas,
comes from fishing, not mainly in Philippine waters where most of
the fishes are undersized. They must be coming further down south
from our neighbors in private venture arrangements.
To what degree are foreign fishing fleets fishing Philippine waters?
There is a lot
of complaints from the private fishing sector of poaching in Philippine
waters by foreign fishing fleets, the exact magnitude of which we
do not have any figures to back us up.
You have a lot of existing laws having to do with fisheries management,
but it sounds like enforcement has not been adequate. What is the
largest obstacle to good fisheries management?
is very inadequate in terms of enforcement of current laws that
are in place for management of the fisheries. The way to go is not
to manage things from central Manila, but to follow the path of
what the government is already doing increase the evolution
of central authority to the management of fisheries, to the local
government units and to the local communities. The way to be able
to enforce these laws is to get the local stake holders involved
in the management and enforcement of the rules and regulations for
the management of the resources.
There are a
lot of limitations from the practical level to the financial
capabilities to the institutional capabilities, in terms of logistics,
for example. And, personal capabilities in enforcing the laws.
I mean, bringing
somebody to court is a very technical and complicated game in the
Philippines. If you face the situation of the economic power of
the commercial fishing sector. You have a tremendous challenge in
front of you. What is needed is increased political will to make
sure that the laws are implemented without favor. And I guess, that
is the biggest obstacle to us. We have to face, of course, with
pragmatism the political and economic power of the interests of
the large scale sector. It is something to contend with but if there
is the political will on the side of the local governments to be
able to sustain the livelihoods of majority of the fishers, under
their jurisdiction, well I guess we would have solved most of the
Do you feel like the work these NGOs are doing is important?
a very important role in us facing up to the problems. They are
important engines for us to be able to introduce the necessary measures
and to be able to balance off the political and economic pressures
from the other parties that are benefiting from the current state.
There are limits, however, to what they can do.
What the government
needs to do is to be able to institutionalize the role of NGOs stakeholders
in the overall management of the fisheries. They play a tremendous
role. They have tremendous rapport with the local population where
they are working. And I think it is really the way to go. How one
puts them as part of the overall context of the management regimes
that are put in place in the local areas, of course, is a distinct
challenge that must be faced. We have been in the Philippines introducing
fisheries management counsels, for management of specific areas.
And NGOs play a vital role in those councils when they are
represented to voice the side of the disadvantaged, and to voice
the side of the environment and sustainable development in the decision-making
debate that goes on in those councils.
Can you speak to the importance of seafood as a source of protein
for people in the Philippines?
It is a major
source of protein.
Seafood is a
very important source of protein for the Philippine population.
It contributes, roughly, about 60% of animal protein consumed by
the Philippinos, who are about 70 million nowadays. We consume,
on the average, 42 kilograms, per capita, on an annual basis. So
it is the major source of animal protein for the Philippine population.
Apart from its nutritional value, as a source of food, it also is
a major source of livelihood for many of the people in the coastal
areas. So it is a major source of employment for people, a major
source of livelihood for them, and a major source of valuable foreign
exchange in a country that is facing the Asian financial crisis
and is trying to squirm of its external debt bill.
How important are the restoration of mangroves for the future of
fisheries in the Philippines?
There have been
studies of the links between mangrove health and the productivity
of coastal waters. The mangroves are main nursery and feeding rounds
for many of the coastal fish that we are dependent upon. It is of
substantial importance to the productivity of coastal waters. But
right now the mangrove stands are down to, in most areas, down to
50% of their original cover. In some areas almost down to 10% of
what was originally there. So we are facing tremendous mangrove
destructive in this part of the world.
We rely on mangroves
for a lot of things. We rely on them for, for the productivity of
the coastal waters, but also if you look at mangroves as coastal
protection and as filters, for example, for the siltation that comes
from upstream from the degraded watersheds, then you will more or
less realize the great significance of mangroves and us being able
to maintain the quality of the coastal waters that sustain the coastal
fisheries production that we have.
How do you maintain your drive in your work?
I grew up in
a coastal fishing village in southern Manila. When I was younger
the condition of the fishers, which were much better back, way back
then. And through time, when I visited my home town, every year
I was witness to how their lifestyles and their livelihoods have
been affected by the host of problems that we all face. I guess
what drives me is the fact that my training in Western schools tells
me there is a way around it; we know what needs to be done.
On the other
hand, I see the situation in the fisheries and the poverty that
the fishers face, and that there are solutions to the problems,
if we just get our act straight. What drives me is the fact that
these are serious problems. They are causes of frustrations in the
course of the battle everyday that we face in trying to promote
sustainable fisheries in this part of the world. But then again,
the benefits far outweigh in what we have been paying in terms of
time, since we started on this endeavor. There is much to be gained
in sustaining the benefits that we, that we generate.
Very few countries
in Asia, given the poverty that they face, can ill afford the economic
losses that are resulting from the over fishing problem that we
face from the destruction of the course of fishery resources that
we have, and the related habitats that sustain them. We in the developing
countries can ill afford these losses and we must be able to address
these problems. The solutions are there. All we need to do is get
our acts together.