The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Western Command (WESCOM) to address marine ecosystem threats in the West Philippine Sea through its “Fish Right Program.”

The partnership was made official when Nygiel Armada, Chief of Party of the USAID Fish Right Program of the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center, visited WESCOM on October 26 with colleagues from the area. He told WESCOM that USAID will pay for the program that BFAR will run.

Earlier this year, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) also teamed up with USAID for the implementation of the program to organize and encourage fishermen to adopt responsible fishing practices in coastal communities in Busuanga town, in the northern part of Palawan. A similar program was also recently implemented in South Negros, Visayan Sea, and will be expanded to WPS as part of their fishing management areas.

The program is specifically designed and focused on combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the WPS through area assessment and the establishment of a network of marine protected areas. Various tools and mechanisms are implemented to improve marine biodiversity and sustainable fisheries, coastal resource management, and climate change resilience. These include community and local stakeholder consultations, information, education, and communication, as well as a number of other ecosystem-based approaches.

WESCOM chief Vice Admiral Alberto B. Carlos expressed gratitude to USAID for the grant, stating that it will serve as a major boost to the country’s efforts to protect not only the country’s territorial claims over WPS but also its ecosystems.

“We welcome with high confidence the Fish Right Program’s expansion to the West Philippine Sea as this will be an opportunity for the convergence of science and strategy in addressing the multi-dimensional concerns in the WPS, particularly on food and environmental security that WESCOM has been undertaking,” said

“The beauty of this partnership is that we, in the military, are not alone in protecting our sovereign rights, but that we have the whole nation and like-minded institutions as co-owners and co-creators of peaceful and sustainable solutions to our concerns in the WPS,” he added.

The partnership with BFAR and USAID will be carried out through data-driven maritime management, working with civil society groups, and promoting ecosystem-based approaches in the whole West Philippine Sea.

Several other moves, both from government officials and non-government associations, have been initiated to declare WPS as a marine protected area and a protected seascape.

Aside from this, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) also passed a resolution declaring a portion of WPS, particularly Lawak Island, as a protected area.