Sat. May 8th, 2021

Platform for a Department of Fisheries

By Albert A. Encomienda

(First of a Series of 3)

The ocean management concerns of the Philippines as an archipelagic State encompass its archipelagic and internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf (including a possible Extended Continental Shelf. The same situation exists for the two other archipelagic States in the Central Indo-Pacific that are adjacent to each other i.e., Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.)

The defining characteristic of an archipelagic State is a far greater sea area under national jurisdictions than land territory. This is on account of its maritime basepoints and baselines being designated and drawn connecting the outermost points of the outermost islands of the archipelago from which to delineate its maritime jurisdictions, under international law.

The Philippines is also considered a quintessential coastal State in that its population centers are never more than a hundred kilometers from the coast.

Among its marine endowments are a rich unparalleled biodiversity, hosting the larger part of the coral triangle that extends to northeastern Indonesia and Malaysia (Sabah); contains four times the number of coral species than found in the Great Barrier Reef and among the highest in the world. One of only six double-barrier reefs in the world is in Bohol.

Marine ecosystem

The archipelago is a large marine ecosystem with biodiversity that serves as an important feeding and breeding grounds for high-value commercial fish species such as tuna (highly migratory and straddling fish stocks), endangered marine mammals such as the Dugong or “sea cow,” the “Butanding” or whale shark, the rarer mega-mouth shark, and six species of marine turtles.

To say that the Philippine archipelago is the oceanarium of the world and a microcosm of global marine life would not be an overstatement.

This imposes on the Philippines a national burden to nurture its marine environment and resources, and furthermore take the role as the lead shepherd in ocean governance of the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific regional seas, which are interconnected enclosed and semi-enclosed seas.

Collectively these regional sea areas would best be governed effectively through region-wide cooperation, which is compelled under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, Part IX).

The obverse side of the coin in the above extraordinarily complex Philippines ocean scenario, extrapolated to the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific seas, is that this large marine ecosystem and its fisheries resources are exposed to serious threats and degradation on account of human activities such as illegal fishing and overfishing, pollution from mineral resources extraction (seabed/subsoil or land-based), run-off pollution from rivers and lakes, and international and domestic seaborne trade (shipping).

Additionally, this widespread threat situation in the ASEAN seas and the Central Indo-Pacific is aggravated by the absence of a regional governance mechanism or organization to address maritime issues for joint and coordinated renewable resource management, and to guarantee safe and secure sea trade routes (50% of world maritime trade pass through these regional seas).

The non-existence of a regional management organization in this highly endangered ecosystem heritage area, further exposed to pollution threats as a major sea trade route, is very politically charged and falls under international law (UNCLOS Part IX) as being a critical area where regional cooperation for conservation and preservation is a base requirement.

The necessity for a regional ocean management agency must be accepted and subsumed by the government and population for all would eventually be lost if there is no mechanism for effective communication leading to sustainable management of the marine resource base in the wider regional seas context; this connectivity of regional seas compels a wider governance net, that can be initiated under ASEAN Vision 2025.

Rationale and relevance of fisheries management and ocean governance to health and livelihood in the context of the Philippines archipelagic State, inevitably leading towards Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).

In the present state of the Philippines as a developing country with vast maritime jurisdictions and dependence on the ocean, fishery resources are critical to the health and livelihood of the greater majority of its people. As such, fisheries are a significant factor in overall social and economic development and enhancement.

An ocean governance scheme initially focused on countrywide coastal fisheries management and extrapolated to a wider regional sea setting, must necessarily be a sustainable program to provide a meaningful longer lasting contribution to the socio-economic life of coastal communities in the ASEAN region and beyond.

To put fisheries, marine resources and marine environment in its appropriate perspective and context in regard to sustainable national economic development and resilience, it must always be remembered that the Philippines is a developing country and an archipelago with far greater ocean jurisdictions than land territory.

Thus, fisheries, especially artisanal fisheries, forms a very significant factor in social and economic enhancement of the nation, calling for all-around “bayanihan” social responsibility on the part of the Government and supporting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private business sector. This has been recently demonstrated in terms of disaster relief, which is even more compelling in building resilience.

Moreover, for fisheries to have a meaningful contribution to the socio-economic life of coastal communities, conservation and management of its marine resources must necessarily be sustained using appropriate national and regional mechanisms. (This is the essence of Annex VI of the Final Act in the UNCLOS, entitled “Resolution on development of National Marine Science, Technology and Ocean Service Infrastructure.”)

Accordingly, the scope of the current agriculture program in the Philippines needs to be expanded and strengthened in its fisheries component.

Fisheries mariculture and aquaculture farming is agriculture-based and will assume a greater role for the future food security as populations rapidly expand and the fisheries wild resource base is unsustainably strained to feed growing populations.

Furthermore, the fisheries component of agriculture must include marine environmental protection (MEP) mechanisms based on sound marine scientific research (MSR), awareness and training activities to achieve program coherence, cogent direction, and desired sustainability.

Further, there is also the need for a wider scope approach to integrate other ocean-oriented livelihood activities such as island and river cruise tourism, sports fishing, diving, and beach resorts to accommodate and maximize the benefits of the oceans for all stakeholders, for livelihood or recreation.

The foregoing cluster of economic-oriented human activities should of interest to the tourism sector in the ASEAN, starting with ASEAN Vision 2025.

An expanded agro-fisheries program would address sustainable renewable resource management and farming from the highlands, through to the lowlands, coastal areas, mangroves and to sea farming to result in a comprehensive and integrated resource-based sustainable management program which would be the ideal fully inclusive agricultural livelihood framework for the Philippines archipelago, and address its food security requirements.

A holistic, seamless and balanced development of all aspects of agriculture would serve as a social safety net providing for alternative livelihoods for the population of coastal communities in the event of production deficiencies and disasters, which can happen between land-based and marine-based aspects of agriculture. The foregoing inclusive approach, integrating terrestrial and marine components, is not only essential as far as the archipelago configuration of the Philippines dictates, but most responsive to the food security socio-economic governance pillar of the Government under the (1987) Constitution. In essence, the foregoing describes Integrated Coastal Resource Management (ICZM) that would optimize agro-fisheries in an archipelago, and in the context of the Central Indo-Pacific archipelagic continent.

Why ICZM for archipelagic Philippines, extrapolated to the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific; a blueprint for a blue economy. 

Firstly, a general understanding of the ICZM concept and why it is perfectly suited for implementation and adaptation in the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific is needed. The general concept is about management of the interaction between land and sea… “where terrestrial processes and land uses directly affect oceanic processes and uses, and vice versa. Formal definitions of ICZM:

Knecht and Archer (1993): “A dynamic and continuous process of administering the use, development and protection of the coastal zone and its resources towards common objectives of national and local authorities and the aspiration of different resource user groups;”

Sorenson, (1993): “Integrated management provides policy direction and a process for defining objectives and priorities and planning development beyond sectoral activities. It adopts a systems perspective and multi-sectoral approach which takes into account all sectoral interests and stakeholder interests, and deals with economic and social issues as well as environmental and economic issues.”

The ICZM scheme is a matured program that first conceived in the early 1970’s. As can be seen, in no other geological configuration would land/sea interaction be more acute than in an archipelago configuration, which is the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific. Leading archipelago nations that have adopted and developed the scheme are New Zealand and Norway; while Ireland is a work in progress. Examples of non-archipelago nations that are implementing the ICZM scheme are India, Bangladesh, Kenya.

It is said, however, that definitions of ICZM can vary depending on the localized “target territory”, but among principal elements of an ICZM program would be:

Adopting a wide-ranging view of inter-related problems; Decision-making based on good data and information; Working with natural forces; Involving all stakeholders and all relevant parts of the administration; Using a range of instruments (laws, plans, economic instruments, information campaigns, Local Agenda 21s, voluntary agreements, promotion of good practices, etc.) for coastal management. (Source: http://www.heritagecouncil.com)

The “integrated” or inclusive aspect of the ICZM scheme as gleaned from above, makes for the appropriate ocean governance modality for archipelagic Philippines providing coherence in the local (LGU’s), regional (RDC’s) and national context. It should also be applicable and suitable for the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific which is a humongous maritime area sharing characteristic regional features (UNCLOS Article 197).

(To be Continued)

Why ICZM for archipelagic Philippines, extrapolated to the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific; a blueprint for a blue economy. (Part 2) 

Recalling recent natural disaster scenarios impacting on health and livelihood of coastal communities in the Philippines. 

Awareness alarm call on “political disasters.”

An interesting localized ICZM model and template. 

Initiating ICZM as an ASEAN Vision 2025 Social-Cultural Broad Characteristic.

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Editor’s Note: Ambassador Alberto Encomienda is Sovereignph.com’s authority on Maritime and Ocean Affairs, having spent over half of his diplomatic career on legal studies of our Philippine claims at the South China Seas and served as Philippine ambassador to Greece, Malaysia, and Singapore. He received his advance degrees on Ocean Law and Policy from London and Columbia University, and doctoral credits in international politics at the School of International Relations, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University. The ambassador was appointed Assistant Secretary for Legal at the Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary-General of the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center. He has composed more than 25 conference papers on maritime affairs and laws on the seas, and still writing in his capacity as executive director of the think tank Balik-Balangay Center for Archipelagic and Regional Seas Law and Policy Studies.

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