Fisherfolk leaders gathered last April 20 in front of PHINMA University of Pangasinan, venue of the third and last PiliPinas Presidential Debates, to remind the five Presidential candidates not to forget about fisheries issues, saying that El Niño, climate change, and many forms of illegal and unregulated fishing have greatly affected the sector, resulting in low catch, job insecurity and massive loss of income.
Marine conservation advocates joined fisherfolk in challenging the Presidential candidates to address persistent poverty in coastal communities and the deteriorating conditions of Philippine fishing grounds.
“Ang mga mangingisda ang pinakamahirap na sektor sa Pilipinas. Dahil sa kalabisan, paunti nang paunti ang nahuhuling isda sa karagatan at halos hindi na ito nakakabuhay ng pamilya,’ says Iza Gonzales of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan. ‘Sa darating na halalan, mahalaga na iboto natin ang mga kandidatong sa tingin natin ay may malasakit sa ating likas yamang-dagat at may malasakit sa mga mangingisda,’ Gonzales added.
(Fisherfolk are one of the poorest sectors in the Philippines. Because of exploitation, our fisherfolk catch lesser fish and can barely afford to support their families,” said Iza Gonzales of Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan. “This coming elections, let us vote the candidate who cares about our oceans and fisherfolk,” Gonzales added.)
The group unveiled its 10-point Blue Agenda for Sustainable Fisheries days before the last Presidential debate, in front of the University of Pangasinan. “We offer our 10-point agenda to the Presidential candidates because we observed that despite the relatively significant contribution of fisheries to our national economy, we have yet to hear programs that support the small-scale fisheries sector,” Dennis Calvan of the NGOs for Fisheries Reform cited.
Aside from being the poorest of the poor, fisherfolk are also highly vulnerable to impacts of climate change— all the more reason for government to offer programs that ensure the sustainability of fish supply in the future. In 2014, the Philippine Statistics Authority said poverty incidence in the fisherfolk sector reached 39.2 per cent for the year 2012, the highest among the basic sectors, followed by farmers at 38.3 per cent and children at 35.2 per cent .
In order to strengthen fisheries law enforcement and resource management, a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is being put forward. A fisherfolk settlement program and establishment of community fish landing centers are likewise recommended to help fisherfolk improve their fishery products.
The group is also calling for better protection of our oceans; completion of delineation of municipal waters; implementation of traceability mechanisms for fishery products; sustainable fishing; and capacity building for our fisherfolk to better adapt to climate change.
‘The next administration would be critical in ensuring that the legal frameworks in place are implemented properly and the transition towards sustainable fisheries is achieved. We need to show other fish producing countries that we are serious in combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” Sonny Batungbacal of Greenpeace Southeast Asia noted. He also emphasized the importance of establishing a network of large marine reserves to allow our oceans to fully recover from human exploitation.
“We challenge the Presidential contenders to seriously consider our blue agenda for sustainable fisheries. We believe this is the right thing to do and is pro-poor and pro-environment,” Gonzales added.
 Fishermen, farmers and children remeain the poorest basic sectors