Fishing industry marks milestones

Published by rudy Date posted on May 1, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – When lawyer Malcolm I. Sarmiento retired recently as national director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the fishing industry used his send-off party as an occasion to celebrate the various milestones in fisheries conservation and development that marked his 12-year stewardship of the country’s premier fishery regulatory agency.

Testimonies given by representatives from the various sub-sectors of the fishing industry – municipal, commercial and aquaculture – yielded a long list of positive changes that happened in the fishing industry under the watch of the retiree who had to reluctantly decline a term extension of six months offered by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala due to health reason.

The positive changes include:

1) Elevation of the Philippines as the 8th top fish producing country in the world, from a rank of 12 in 2000. Three benchmarks in fisheries production were breached: the three million-metric ton mark in 2001; the four million-metric ton mark 2005 and the five million-metric ton mark in 2009. Past records will show that fisheries production levelled off at an average of around 2.7 million metric tons from 1985 to 2000;

2) Transformation of the fishing industry as the top growth driver of the agriculture sector. Since 2005, the fishing industry has accounted for at least five percent of the agriculture sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) and a hefty 25-percent share of the gross value added (GVA) in the Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry Group;

3) Gaining millions of dollars in grants, not loans from foreign donors for resource conservation, poverty alleviation and alternative livelihood programs. The more recent examples of these grants are the $4.01-million donation given by Spain for the Sustainable Management for Coastal Resources (Sumacore) project being implemented in Regions 3 and 13, and another $ 2.5 million for the Regional Fisheries Livelihood Program being pilot-tested in Zamboanga del Norte;

4) Implementation of a nationwide Mariculture Park Program which has allowed small, medium and large scale investors to engage in fish farming and produce huge volumes of fish without having to cut a single mangrove tree. Located in pollution-free and nutrient-rich offshore areas measuring at least 200 hectares each, a mariculture park operates much like a land-based industrial estate where investors enjoy the benefits of a well-delineated and secure production center;

5) Enhancement of the fishing industry’s export competitiveness by successfully earning for BFAR the distinction of being recognized by the European Union (EU) as the competent Certification Authority to ensure safety of fish and fishery products exported from the Philippines to EU member countries. The recognition has made it easier and cheaper for our fishery products processors and exporters to achieve Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification that in turn has enabled them to make inroads in the highly discriminating but lucrative markets in the European Community;

6) Securing for the Philippines long-distance fishing fleet access to new fishing grounds in Papua New Guinea, after the termination of the country’s fishing access agreement with Indonesia in 2007. This feat prevented the dislocation of thousands of workers in the fishing industry and saved the investments of Filipino companies on fishing vessels, refrigeration/cold storage facilities and processing enterprises. Moves are being undertaken to have a similar arrangement with Palau and Micronesia;

7) Establishment and maintenance of a nationwide network of hatcheries and nurseries for seaweeds, milkfish, tilapia and other high-value species. The initiative has fuelled the accelerated growth of the Philippine aquaculture industry which accounted for 49 percent (2.47 metric tons out of 5.08 metric tons) of the total amount of the country‘s total fishery output last year;

8) Spearheading resource conservation programs through the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, successful implementation of coastal resource management programs projects and active participation in international conservation programs such as the Coral Triangle Initiative;

9)   Development and implementation of innovative programs to improve the plight of  fisherfolk. These include the agency’s Rent-a-Cage project and the distribution of tens of thousands of non-destructive fishing gear such as gill nets, hook and lines, fish pots, payaos, squid jiggers, lambaklad and other fishing paraphernalia to small-scale fishers.

10) Empowerment of fisherfolk through the organization and strengthening of Fishery and Aquatic Resources Management Councils (FARMCs) in 929 coastal municipalities and cities.

BFAR officials and employees who were obviously reluctant to let Sarmiento go said they would forever be grateful to him for the way he held his ground against influential blocks in the Department of Agriculture (DA) who tried several times in the last 10 years to engineer the downgrading of BFAR from a line bureau to a mere staff agency of the DA.

Asked as to how he would like people to remember his stewardship of BFAR, Sarmiento said it was his hope that they would recognize the efforts he put in to restore the BFAR employees’ faith in themselves, the fundamentals for reform and renewal that he managed to put in place to help the agency reinvent itself and the cumulative steps towards good housekeeping that he initiated to sustain the bureau’s metamorphosis into an efficient, ethical and professional organization. –(The Philippine Star)

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