Mindoro, Philippines — Bantay Dagat and Philippine National Police operatives caught a group of fishers doing illegal fishing in the waters of Calapan City over the weekend.
The apprehending team arrested eleven fishers engaged in compressor fishing, an illegal acitivity which causes destruction of marine resources and poses health risks to fishers. Confiscated from the violators were three boats, compressor equipment, fine mesh nets, and live aquarium fishes estimated to be worth PhP3,000.
Calapan assistant city agriculturist Virgil Cantos said that the eleven fishers hail from Isla Verde in Batangas City. Since it was their first offense, they were released and allowed to reclaim their boats and fishing equipment after paying a fine of PhP6,000. The aquarium fishes confiscated from the group were likewise released back to sea.
According to Bantay Dagat Vice chair Danilo Balmes, they were just wrapping up a regular patrol of their marine protected area (MPA) at around 9 AM on Saturday morning when their group received a report of ongoing compressor fishing activity near the area called Tatlong Pulo. They requested assistance from the local police and quickly put together an apprehending team composed of four Bantay Dagat members, two police officers, and Mr. Cantos from the provincial fishery management office.
Aquarium Fish Trade
In May 2011, an amendment of a city ordinance was passed which established a new MPA in Calapan (Silonay Mangrove Marine Protected Area) and spelled out fines and penalties concerning illegal fishing activities. Under the ordinance, compressor fishers will be levied fines at the first and second offenses, and will face up to six months’ imprisonment at the third offense.
Mr. Cantos noted that they have been receiving reports of illegal compressor fishing over the past weeks. The usual targets of compressor fishers are fish intended for the aquarium trade, such as clownfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and wrasse. He said that the apprehended fishers were likely just starting their operations and have not yet amassed a substantial amount of fishes.
Pacifico Beldia II, MPA specialist of Conservation International, said that while the aquarium fish trade can be a viable livelihood option for fisherfolks and a management intervention to reduce fishing pressure for food fishes, it should be non-destructive and regulated so it would not lead to overfishing and habitat loss.
Aside from the use of compressors, fishing for the aquarium trade is also usually associated with the illegal use of cyanide poison.
Better enforcement through better collaboration
Ricky Nuñez, also of Conservation International, noted the role that citizen participation played in apprehending the illegal fishers. “Local community support is important in sustaining law enforcement efforts and we are glad that there are community members in Calapan who are also actively involved in protecting their marine resources.”
Rhodora Emilia Ramiento of the Provincial Agriculture Office (PAGO)-Fisheries and CRM Division said that their province’s Bantay Dagat groups have been active in patrolling against illegal fishing. Two weeks ago, the Bantay Dagat group of Naujan also apprehended a commercial fishing vessel illegally operating within municipal waters. The operation was conducted in cooperation with municipal officials, the PAGO-Fisheries and CRM Division, the local Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the Philippine National Police.
The Bantay Dagat and MPA managers of Oriental Mindoro’s coastal municipalities work together through the Oriental Mindoro MPA and Law Enforcement Network, which was established to enable coordination of efforts and exchange of information among the municipalities.