Securing the Future of Filipino Fishers

Written by Suzannah Evans who is researching a book on the role of fish in food security with Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless.

The last site I visited was overseen by Rare Conservation Fellow Marybeth Rita. Marybeth has a tough job because her campaign covers three towns separated by a hilly unfinished highway that she traverses by motorbike. After some heavy overnight rain, our van could hardly make it through the deep mud (with no guard rail down to the bay!) so I appreciated the difficulty of Marybeth’s assignment.

Rare Conservation Fellow Marybeth Rita leads a meeting with fishers.

Rare Conservation Fellow Marybeth Rita leads a meeting with fishers.

The mayor of Lanuza, Salvacion Azarcon, met us at her office in the morning. She was a really inspiring woman, and not just because she offered us some local palm wine at 8:30 in the morning. Called pirik-pirik, the wine was mixed with raisins to give it a very mildly sweet taste. It was good enough that we kept the bottle and had more later in the day.

Marybeth and the mayor were working together not just to enact 24/7 volunteer guarding at the marine protected area (MPA), but to start a critically important program to register fishermen. Right now, most local fishermen aren’t registered in any way, so it’s hard to tell if they are legally in the municipal waters or not. Once registered, fishers will get an awning designed by Marybeth and the Pride campaign she is running in partnership with Rare that promotes the protection of the MPA.

“By protecting two banks – the ‘fish bank’ of the MPA and the monetary one afforded by the loan – the fishers will be a little more insulated from poverty.”

The registration program will also allow fishers to become eligible for a low-interest 2,500 peso loan (about $58). This is a key element of keeping poverty at bay, because unfortunately many fishers can end up in hock to unscrupulous lenders who make loans at outrageous interest rates.

The mayor’s plan will offer a low-interest alternative that also requires fishers to plant backyard gardens with things like lemongrass and eggplant in order to stay part of the program; this is important because it gives the fishers food and something to sell at market when fishing is bad or during the months of November to February, when there is no fishing at all.

And in a stroke of inspiration, the mayor is requiring fishers to actually pay back 2,600 pesos. The extra 100 pesos will go directly into the fisherman’s savings, starting a nest egg for the future.

“This is our simple plan,” Mayor Azarcon said. But I think it’s not just simple, it’s ingenious and sound. The fishers make less than $5 a day, and one dollar of that is usually spent on fuel for the boats that have outboard motors. By protecting two banks – the “fish bank” of the MPA and the monetary one afforded by the loan – the fishers will be a little more insulated from poverty. And that’s a very good thing.

This is part 4 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.