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To ensure the country’s fisheries conservation and protection, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to extend its Fish Right Program in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as one of the sources of the fisheries products that contribute to food security.

Dr. Joan Regina Castro, PFPI executive vice president, said during the Stakeholders Mapping Workshop and Learning Exchange on Thursday that the expansion of the program aims to provide science-based data on the fishing industry of identified sites in the country.

USAID launched the program in 2018 in partnership with the country, which aims to improve marine biodiversity and influence system change in the fisheries sector in three key marine biodiversity areas identified as the Calamian Island Group, Visayan Seas, and South Negros.

It is being implemented by the University of Rhode Island in collaboration with PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc. (PFPI), Silliman University, Marine Environment and Resources Foundation, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Resonance, and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.

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She said this is also to encourage the Filipinos to protect their own waters as a source of food.

“Ito kasi talagang project looks at the data and science-based evidence na pwedeng ma-appreciate kung bakit importante na pangalagaan ang waters sa WPS. Along the way, mag-ge-generate ng mga data na pag-uusapan para ma-realize nila na it is worth protecting the West Philippine Sea because it covers a lot of the food of the people,” Castro explained.

With the current territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, Castro clarified that there is no politics involved behind the program but it is purely data presentation.

“Hindi ito political. It is really giving scientific and biological [data] and the community there ay sana bantayan din ang kanilang teritoryo because that is where we really derive our food and livelihood,” she said.

She added that the studies will also include how to address threats at sea, including illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities as one of the factors contributing to fish population reduction.

“Bakit hindi natin naa-achieve? Kasi maraming threats, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Tinitingnan natin ang mga scientific evidence that will actually prove na that is the reason why hindi na ma-achieve and why our waters are being destroyed,” she added.

PATH Foundation Philippines Inc. (PFPI) Behavior Change Communications Specialist Ferdinand Esguerra added that the future generation will surely benefit from the program of protecting the Philippine seas.

“Ito kasing expanded site na gagawin namin sa Fisheries Management Area (FMA) 5 na gagawin namin sa West Philippine Sea hanggang Zambales area ay magkakaroon ng mga several studies. We should realize that what we are fighting now is not for today’s generation but for the future generation,” Esguerra said.

PFPI Field Program Coordinator Vivien Facunla said during the workshop that they want to encourage the local government units of Taytay, El Nido, Kalayaan, Puerto Princesa City, Quezon, San Vicente, Araceli, and Dumaran to intensify their marine and fishery protection interventions.

She said that as the workshop targets fishery protection in the whole Palawan province, they will also conduct the same activity in other municipalities soon.

“Target talaga nito ay buong Palawan at this is the first time [na nagkaroon ng workshop]. Inuna lang namin muna itong walo and we wanted to share good practices na nagawa doon sa Calamian,” Facunla said.

She added that the Fish Right Program is also focusing on actively contributing and sharing good practices in the Marine Protected Area Network (MPAN) to other parts of FMAs.

Fancunla also shared an observation that Calamian municipalities have improved their local policies that will ensure the conservation of marine resources.

“I think na-improve ang policy nila including pag-regulate ng fishing gears para tuloy-tuloy ang pagkuha ng isda. Ano-ano ba ang dapat i-regulate like closed season? Pinag-uusapan na rin ang iba pang factors ng pagbaba ng fish stocks,” she said.

She further stated that they are also expecting to protect the fish stocks not only in the province of Palawan but also in WPS.

“Lumalabas sa mga studies na ang WPS ay source ng mga fish stocks na umiikot pataas at pabalik ulit. Meaning kapag hindi na-protect ‘yong WPS ay apektado rin ang ibang municipalities. Possible din na mag-reduce ang fish stocks sila dahil hindi napangalagaan ang WPS,” she said.

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is the chief of correspondents of Palawan News. She covers defense, politics, tourism, health, and sports stories. She loves to travel and explore different foods.