Strait to Impact

fisher and son on boat in Ayungon, Philippines

Strait to Impact

In the Philippines, a new "Fish Forever Flex" model saves costs while saving fish
S.H. IrbyAugust 29, 2016

Between the Negros and Cebu islands in the Philippines lies Tañon Strait, a passage of water connecting the Visayan Sea and the Bohol Sea. It’s narrow, long and deep: 16 miles wide, stretching across 99 miles, and plunging to depths past 1600 feet not far from the shore. Venture into these waters, and you’ll find many of the widely beloved sea creatures that give the ocean its mythical appeal: sharks, dolphins, manta rays, whales, and deeper still, the pygmy killer whale and the nautilus. Pods of spinner dolphins, named for the way they launch up into the air in corkscrews, spring out of the strait to form slick and slender blurs of grey and white over the water. Beneath the surface, huge schools of sardines sync up their little bodies into dense silver storms of fish, rolling over reefs and morphing as hunting sharks and dolphins chase their swimming parts.

tañon strait mapThe strait is also a large and critical fishing ground for Filipino communities. Fishing families live all along the shoreline, and each community’s coastal fishers catch a range of species from the strait’s diverse fisheries. Though Tañon Strait serves as the largest marine protected area in the Philippines under the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS), it hasn’t always been treated as such. Tañon Strait has succumbed to overfishing and illegal fishing, as well as pollution and industrial development. The Tañon Strait Protected Seascape has a governing body with more than 350 members, called the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), but due to the management board’s sheer size and jurisdiction issues between national agencies and local government units, it’s been difficult to organize and make collective decisions around Tañon Strait’s protection.

As of last year, however, the standstill ceased, giving way to new national conservation momentum for the strait. Building off that momentum, Rare Philippines is taking part in collaborative national-level projects that aim to ramp up protection of the strait as a whole and extend local coastal fisheries reform efforts to more communities along Tañon Strait.

Results from Rare’s work in this critical area for coastal fishing and marine biodiversity will inform and be pivotal to the fisheries work we do worldwide: Tañon Strait sites will be the first in which we pilot a new high-efficiency, lower-cost version of our sustainable fishing delivery model. The unsustainable coastal fishing practices afflicting Tañon Strait are reflective of a global phenomenon, acutely affecting the people that depend on fish and fishing the most — those of the developing world. If the newly developed, streamlined approach achieves the intended goals in Tañon Strait, we will look to export its features to our program work in the rest of the Philippines, as well as in Mozambique, Brazil, and Indonesia.

Progress and partnerships: Rare’s part in protecting Tañon Strait

In February of 2015, the Protected Area Management Bureau (PAMB) held its first-ever general assembly meeting, convening more than 350 members with the help of civil society organizations, led by Oceana, our partner under the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative, and including Rare. Once the first general assembly meeting took place, members were able to galvanize movement toward a more functional PAMB and developed a general management plan for Tañon Strait, now awaiting approval from the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The new model puts communities on the path to managed access within a year and a half, at a fifth of the cost of our traditional approach, cutting down costs by more than $300,000 per site.

Rare has harnessed such progress to further our sustainable fishing efforts in Tañon Strait. As in all of Rare’s coastal fisheries programs, we’ve formed strategic partnerships essential to achieving impact: In May 2015, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources, launched the Marine Key Biodiversity Areas (MKBA) Project to strengthen the protection and management of five key biodiversity areas in the Philippines, the Tañon Strait among them. The MKBA project is a countrywide effort with multiple NGO partners, each assigned to an area. Rare is the responsible partner for Tañon Strait, committed to strengthening management of at least 15 local marine protected areas (MPAs), as well as the entire strait.

To carry out the commitments to Tañon Strait’s protection and improved management, Rare is applying two simultaneous strategies, both national and local in nature: We’re working with multiple players in national marine conservation, including the strait’s protected area office and the PAMB, and helping them become more effective at managing the area through organizational development, financial planning, and clarification of the seascape’s policies. At the same time, we are working directly with 17 municipalities to enable them to strengthen their fisheries and MPAs, and put their communities on a path to sustainable fishing. It’s in this local work that Rare’s experiment in streamlining its fisheries work begins.

Higher impact, lower cost: Refining Rare’s fisheries approach with coastal communities

Previously, Rare’s Fish Forever initiative was being implemented in five municipalities in Tañon Strait. Now, we’re expanding our work to 17 municipalities, a much bigger cluster of sites than we’ve worked with before, presenting the opportunity to pilot a more efficient and equally impactful delivery model. Rare’s sustainable fishing approach in the Philippines and elsewhere revolves around integrating managed fishing access with marine reserves. To help coastal fishers and their communities restore and protect their fisheries and thrive long-term, Rare helps them design areas of managed — rather than open — fishing access, and collaborates with local municipalities to drive legal adoption, which in Tañon Strait comes from the PAMB. Managed fishing access allows local fishers to organize their use of fisheries based on a system of rights, and minimize overfishing. In Rare’s approach, managed access areas are strategically positioned in or along existing marine protected areas like Tañon Strait to incentivize fishers nearby to bolster MPA protections, anticipating protected and newly recovered stocks to eventually arrive in their fishing grounds.

Rare’s new model, launched in late August, is designed to put communities on the path to managed access within a year and a half, at a fifth of the cost of our traditional approach. The new model reduces program time by a full year and cuts down costs by more than $300,000 per site.

The major changes lie in the scope of the campaign work that we help local leaders carry out in each site. Rare is making the program more compact, hands-off, and team-driven for the local leaders with whom we partner to drive community support for sustainable fisheries management.

Previously, Rare would train a single staff member from a partner NGO or local government unit to become a Rare Fellow, and lead a social marketing campaign to rouse support for managed access. In the new model, we will train local leaders in teams that can then support one another. Rare is also condensing its campaign training into adaptable toolkits with checklists, which teams can access and administer independently. These toolkits have been designed to be more participatory than prescriptive, presenting situations that can happen in the course of a campaign and sparking team practice and dialogue around them. Rare will also hand off responsibility for steps like site profiling and enforcement to the local teams, transfer some of our coaching efforts to provincial and protected area office partners, and reduce our campaign mentoring to periodic site visits and demand-driven assistance.

Overall, we believe the new model will give communities the tools they need to adopt sustainable management efficiently and on their own terms. For Rare, national adoption of managed access will ultimately be key to seeing all of the Philippines’ coastal communities secure their future in fishing. Rare’s pilot of its new delivery model in Tañon Strait places national adoption of sustainable management in closer reach — in the Philippines, and across all of the sites in which we work.

Partner Spotlight: Bloomberg Philanthropies

In addition to support from the Marine Key Biodiversity Areas (MKBA) Project, Rare’s new delivery model for sustainable fisheries management receives support from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans initiative, which not only supports our pilot project in Tañon Strait, but also backs Rare’s launch of managed access sites in the Philippines. The lessons we’ve learned from all previous sites have been critical to informing the work Rare will do in the strait. Rare’s Vibrant Oceans partner, Oceana, is working simultaneously to combat illegal and destructive commercial fishing in Tañon Strait. Together, we hope our complementary efforts in coastal and commercial fishing will work in concert to effectively tackle the complicated and critical challenges facing our oceans.


 With a new model for fisheries management, Tañon Strait communities aim for greater impact at a fraction of the cost (tweet)
 New Rare 2.0 fisheries model saves costs while saving fish (tweet)
 Rare's new model for fisheries management supports partnerships & renewed conservation momentum for Tañon Strait (tweet)