Fisherfolk in 11 coastal towns in the Calamianes group of islands have unanimously expressed support for the declaration of monthly closed periods for rabbitfish fishing to protect the spawning populations of the species.
This comes soon after the launch of their community-level Fisheries Improvement Plans (FIPs), which were formulated with the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), through the funding provided by the Government of Italy.
“Fisherfolk communities in Palawan are demonstrating their strong commitment to addressing the impacts of overfishing and marine habitat loss, which directly affect their livelihoods. From the onset, they were actively involved in the development of FIPs and in identifying practical strategies that they are willing to adopt,” said FAO Representative in the Philippines José Luis Fernández.
Rabbitfish was previously harvested by coastal families primarily for sustenance, but fishing pressure has significantly increased over the last decade with the growing demand for danggit (dried salted fish) and lamayo (marinated fish). These delicacies have been commanding higher prices of up to Php400 (USD 8.43) per kilogram.
Owing to its early maturity and spawning age, the species has so far withstood adverse conditions but is now at risk of reaching critical point. Fishers have reported declining yields that affect the entire value chain, especially the women who play an important role in post-harvest processing and marketing.
A local ordinance detailing regulatory measures for rabbitfish capture will be passed while the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (BFARMC) will prepare the calendar for the periodic closed season.
Fisheries Improvement Plans
The FIPs, which is part of a larger FAO-BFAR effort to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable small-scale fishers in Region 4B (MIMAROPA), are directed at mobilizing community action towards regaining the integrity and stability of fisheries ecosystems, including marine sanctuaries and mangrove areas. The strategies will also ensure that while communities help in protecting coastal resources, they are also provided with alternative fisheries and non-fisheries based livelihoods that will augment and improve their incomes.
“Without striking a balance between coastal resource management and the food and income needs of coastal communities, marine habitats will continue to deteriorate due to unsustainable fishing practices,” Fernández explained. “Vulnerable small-scale fisher families stand to stand to lose the most if the limits of sustainability are breached.”
Women have a vital role in making fisheries sustainable
Community consultations provided women fishers and fishers’ wives with a platform to contribute to the decision-making process. FAO noted that approximately 50 percent of participants in these dialogues were women. This demonstrated their strong commitment to helping their families earn supplemental incomes, which would in turn lessen economic pressures that lead to unsustainable fishing.
Further consultations were conducted to determine the most viable alternative livelihoods, based on the available skillsets and interest of the women in the barangays, as well as potential markets. Upon reaching consensus, women’s groups were then provided with start-up resources and additional support in organizational strengthening and business planning.
In most barangays, women selected garment production as an alternative income source. This type of work, they say, will still permit them to perform their gender-related roles as mothers and primary caregivers in the home. Through the project, FAO provided them with sewing machines, fabric and other materials. Some of them have since been contracted by local schools to produce uniforms for students.
In some communities, the consultations led to the provision of tools for cashew nut processing, which would add significant value to the whole, unpeeled cashew nuts that women currently sell.