By Yasmin Arquiza
Dancing to the tune of the campaign song Atong Tañon, the adorable pink mascot Lapi delights the crowd of fishers celebrating the Month of the Ocean in Amlan, a coastal town in Negros Oriental in the Philippines.
“We named her Lapi in honor of the lapu-lapu or grouper, one of the most abundant fish in our municipal waters,” says Jonaldo Omole, the coastal resource management officer of Amlan. “It’s a high-value fish that suffered a decline due to abusive practices, and through the help of this mascot, we want to promote the recovery of their population.”
Groupers were especially plentiful in the town’s Tandayag Marine Sanctuary, a popular destination for divers from nearby Dumaguete City. Nine years after starting rehabilitation efforts, Omole proudly reports, “These days, we love taking photos of large lapu-lapu and uploading them to our Facebook page, to show our fishers that the groupers are back.”
Omole and Lapi are familiar faces in Amlan’s fisheries campaign, which marked a milestone last May with the launching of a municipal ordinance that provides privileged access to registered local fishers. The program coincided with Month of the Ocean festivities and brought together many sectors including law enforcers and community leaders.
“Before, when we didn’t have managed access areas yet, fishers from other towns who use all kinds of fishing gear would enter our municipal waters,” says Job Tagle, team leader of Amlan’s fisheries campaign. “We have now regulated these activities, and our fishers were the ones who determined what kind of gear would be allowed, and who can come here to fish,” he adds.
Through the new ordinance, Amlan is hoping to solve the problem of overfishing and give priority to almost 700 registered municipal fishers in five designated fishing zones.
“We also want to protect our habitats, such as the coral reefs in our coastal barangays where nets are not allowed,” adds Tagle. Only hook and line, fish traps, and gleaning for shells can be done in these areas to maintain healthy reefs.
Professional fishers inside municipal waters
Amlan joins a growing number of local government units that have enacted laws creating special fishing zones for coastal fishers. In the last three years, one city and 21 municipalities have given priority to their constituents in harvesting marine resources, as part of their duty to protect municipal waters under the country’s Local Government Code.
These fishing zones often encircle fish sanctuaries, where the gathering of resources is not allowed so that marine life can bounce back to healthy levels. “The fishers are the onsite managers, and we just coordinate activities. They help install marker buoys, conduct biophysical assessments and coastal clean-ups, and monitor fish catch in spillover areas,” says Tagle.
The ordinance includes the color-coding of boats per barangay, to make it easier for law enforcers to spot intruders. The municipal government provides institutional support, and funds to sustain environmental awareness efforts.
“We talk to the fishers constantly and help them understand their important role in protecting our seas,” says Omole. “They are the ones who live along the coastline, so community participation is critical in implementing a successful fisheries campaign.”
Virgilio Aviso, head of the Tandayag Fishermen’s Association, agrees that educating their members is the key to reversing long-held fishing practices. In the past, he said no one told them why some fishing gear were not allowed in certain places. Since the municipal campaign started in 2010, he has observed a significant change in the behavior of fishers, with many of them following fisheries regulations and using proper gear.
On the concrete wall beside Amlan’s fish landing center, Aviso’s portrait is among the three ProFi — or professional fishers — featured prominently in a colorful mural.
Activist AG Saño says the portraits and other images in the mural are meant to encourage other fishers to follow the example of responsible fishers who exhibit proper behavior such as licensing of boats and gear, or measuring fish sizes to ensure that they only catch adult ones.
“If the fishers see these images every day, it could instill in them the desired behaviors of the campaign,” explains Saño, who completed the mural together with volunteers.
In the next few years, more local government units are expected to join the bandwagon, catching up with Amlan and other coastal communities that are surging ahead in sustaining their fisheries.