An Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management Planning workshop in North Samar, Philippines

by Supin Wongbusarakum
River

Vessel moored by the banks of the river in North Samar, Philippines. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Supin Wongbusarakum

“As a government employee, I will share all my knowledge and put in all my effort by doing my tasks the best I can to ensure success of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) plan. Being new to the government and the concept, I will study and do more research on how to make this more effective. As an individual, I will encourage my friends to protect nature in any simple way they can in their every day life.”

– A commitment statement by a local governmental unit officer at the EAFM Workshop, Calbayog, Philippines, January 30–February 2, 2017
Fresh fish at a harbor market

Fresh fish sold at the local harbor market. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Supin Wongbusarakum

We arrived in the town of Calbayog in Visayas Province, Philippines the weekend before our EAFM workshop, supported by USAID, with partners from the USAID-funded ECOFISH project and officers from the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. We began setting up the room for the workshop activities and EAFM planning process. Collectively, we pooled our creativity to transform a long, narrow room into a welcoming venue where approximately 50 local governmental unit officials from 16 municipalities from the region could work together for the next four days. The objective for the workshop was to develop an EAFM plan for the fisheries management unit in the San Bernardino Strait and Ticao Pass—moving from theory to practice with an ecosystem approach to fisheries management and sustainable development. Because we needed to reserve wall space to display workshop output each day, we posted some of the posters on the ceiling. Surprisingly, everything looked great!

Abundance of Nipa palms in the wetland

Nipa palm trees line the coast of the wetlands. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Supin Wongbusarakum

From the windows of the meeting room, we could see a big river with incredibly lush and green vegetation along both banks and mountains in the distance.  The light evening breeze matched the slow and gentle flow of the river. As the sun dropped below the horizon we found ourselves wrapped in a pleasant stillness, with just the sound of the water slipping by and evening insects as company. Most of us were in deep thought about what we would need to do to ensure that this workshop for EAFM planning in the Philippines would be a success and set a good precedent for more to follow.

Sunset in Calbayog

The sun sets behind a boat on the Calbayog coast. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Supin Wongbusarakum

As night fell, a local ECOFISH staffer said we might see fireflies. Having been in many places where wetlands were paved over for development, I could not remember the last time I had seen fireflies. Then, in the midst of this reverie, I heard our ECOFISH colleagues shout, “Fireflies!” Here and there around us were tiny flashing lights. As the night got darker, some trees along the banks were filled with hundreds of fireflies. The effect was magical. Throughout the EAFM planning workshop, this image of firefly-lit trees kept surfacing as a reminder that there are still places where development has not covered over nature’s magic, and as an incentive for achieving a balance between people’s resource needs and the management and stewardship of ecosystems.

Boat by river bank

Fishing boat moored on the banks of the river. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Supin Wongbusarakum

In the workshop, we discussed this goal of balancing ecological health with human well-being through good governance. We outlined the principles of an EAFM that include coordination and cooperation for multiple objectives and precautionary approaches to address uncertainty. We went through a full EAFM planning process—the local governmental officials defined their fisheries management area, threats and issues, goals, objectives, management activities, monitoring, and financial plans. Similar to many of the areas where we work, the major threats and issues discussed in Calbayog were related to degraded fisheries resources, poverty, illegal fishing, and weak enforcement. These problems are interlinked and have to be addressed holistically, which is exactly what an ecosystem approach to fisheries management offers. We discussed different ways to sustain fisheries and develop alternative livelihoods that will help lessen pressures on marine resources. We also took into consideration different ways to engage other stakeholder groups that rely on these marine resources.

On the last day, I was asked to help close the workshop. I shared my thoughts about the fireflies of Calbayog, my impressions of the immensely valuable wetlands surrounding us, and how our work together would contribute to conserving coastal and the marine resources for future generations. The abundance of fireflies in Calbayog was not just a magic moment in my life, it was for me, a sign of how much nature around us remains intact. I asked all the participants to reflect on how each of us is committed to the goal of balancing nature and human well-being. One by one, participants came up and posted commitment statements as we thanked each other for contributing to a very productive workshop. We all agreed that it is important to continue working together so that future generations will be able to witness natural occurrences as magical as the fireflies of Calbayog.

With thanks to USAID, ECOFISH, and the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for supporting this workshop.