ROUGH CUTS| Addressing subsistence fishermen’s concerns

SO THERE are many government projects geared towards helping subsistence fishermen? This is what Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) XI regional director Fatma Idris said in her reaction to the statements of presidential candidates on what they will do to help the plight of fishermen during the first ever debate among presidentiables in Cagayan de Oro City last Sunday.

     According to Idris there are many interventions being implemented by the Department of Agriculture of which BFAR is a leading bureau. However, she sort of put the blame instead on the subsistence fishermen and the community in general, for their “overdependence” on the government.

     The BFAR head wanted the fisher folk themselves to be vigilant and active in protecting the coastal areas because according to Idris, without the active participation of the communities, the government projects for small fishermen will be rendered inefficient.

     Well, it is nice to hear this kind of reaction from the BFAR official in light of the admission of the candidates for president that there is need to improve the lot of subsistence fishermen of which there are some 47,369 in Region XI alone.

     But are the government interventions or projects really the most appropriate to address the fishermen’s concerns?  For example, the BFAR official has mentioned of community fish landing centers (CFLCs) in strategic locations in the entire country. Where are these located in the Davao Region? Are these centers beneficial to the ordinary fisherman? How much is the cost of availing the landing center and its facilities? Can they afford it?

     Are the so-called strategic locations of the CFLCs accessible to small time fish traders? From what we learned in our dealings with fish vendors in the market we learned that they buy their fish from Davao City’s biggest market in Bankerohan, specifically in the Pag-asa drop-off area along the bank of Davao River. And they pass it on to their customers in markets they are retailing the fish being sourced by them direct from Daliao or from Sta. Cruz or Samal.

     And we personally were able to confirm this “white lie” from the vendor we are buying our weekly fish supply in the house when one time we went to Bankerohan at about 4 in the morning. We saw him there and when we jokingly confronted him, he admitted that is the only way small fish vendors can earn a little from their capital.

     According to the fish vendor they cannot compete in the fish landing centers with big-time fish traders who usually gobble up every available fish landed in the facility at a price they also virtually dictate themselves because of the volume they buy.

     As for the small fish vendors, they only have so less in capital and they have to pay for transportation cost in going to the CFLCs and bringing the fish to where they want to retail it. So how much can they earn from their trade.

     On the part of the small fishermen, with only limited catch, with probably unaffordable cost of landing and using the CFLC facilities, and with price already dictated by the big time fish compradors, how can they earn enough?

     Then there is supposed to exist that funding assistance from the Land Bank for fishermen to put up fish cages. And according to the BFAR official the fishermen concerned cannot qualify because “they have other needs.”  If that is so, why not BFAR or the Land Bank for that matter, take off from there? What are these “other needs” of the fishermen? Why not look into these so that in the long term they can qualify for fish cage financing? Or, is the Land Bank just too fixated on the fish cage projects only that other than this project the government financial institution cannot and will not help the small fishermen anymore?

     We are aware that some fishermen in the coastal areas of Davao Provinces do not even have their own motorized fishing boats and they are renting from moneyed operators for engine-powered bancas and gadgets at exorbitant cost. And add to that is the boat owners are also into big time fish trading. Hence, the small fishermen are obligated to dispose their catch to the boat owners who also dictate the price.

     And we were shocked at what we heard from Liberal Party’s candidate for President Manuel Roxas II about the government providing fishermen (and we assume the subsistence ones because that was what was being asked of them as to what the candidates can do to help if they are elected) with sonar fish detectors.

     We are wondering how such equipment can help the small fishermen who do not have the fishing boats that can carry them to the open seas in pursuit of the schools of fish located by the sonar fish finder.

     Really, we find it imperative that whoever wins in the coming May presidential election he or she must call the various stakeholders in the fishing industry to map out plans on how to address the problem of the fishery sector especially the plight of the subsistence fisher folk.

     There must be a way to come up with a win-win solution to the endemic problem of exclusiveness even as the country’s aquatic resources must be protected from the greedy big-time fishermen and the small fishermen given their fair share of gift of the seas and inland waters.

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Posted in Opinion