FARMCs in the Philippines: A little lesson in fish management

I’ll try to make this as painless as possible. But, I want to talk a little bit about fisheries management in the Philippines and how this relates to some challenges I will face during my Peace Corps service.

First, some context. Not long ago, many people believed the oceans had an endless bounty. Turns out that’s just not true. In most of the world, fish populations are in decline due to a number of reasons, not limited to climate change, pollution, development, habitat loss and overfishing. From an environmentalist’s perspective this is tragic, but from a human perspective, even more so.

Here are some quick figures for the Philippines (BFAR 2014).

  • As of 2002, there were more than 1.6 million people working within the fishing industry
  • 40% of those fisherfolk live below the poverty line
  • Fish and seafood make up 11% of a Filipino’s daily total food intake
  • There was a 5% drop in seafood production from 2009 to 2014
  • The Philippines is the 7th largest global producer of seafood
  • The fishing industry makes up 1.6% of the GDP (for comparison it’s less than 0.2% in the US)

In the Philippines, management of municipal waters (from the shore to 15 miles out) starts at the smallest level of government- the barangay. Coastal barangays range in size, but most are quite small, not more than a couple thousand people. In the late 1990s the Philippines mandated that all coastal barangays (and those with major lake/river systems) form Barangay Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils (BFARMCs). These councils are to be made of at least 3/4ths local fishfolk, meet monthly, and are in charge of everything from creating management plans to research, regulation, and law enforcement. So, basically everything relating to their fishing practices.

Also mandated was the creation of Municipal level (the next largest level of government) councils (MFARMCs), which should coordinate and oversee the BFARMCs and work with law makers to create new regulations. Above that, there should also be IFARMCs (I for Integrated) for municipalities to co-manage shared bodies of water. Then there is finally the NFARMC (N for National), overseeing everything else.

In a perfect system, the BFARMCs would take care of most of the work. And, being made up mostly of fisherfolk, these councils would maintain a healthy and harmonious fishing community where both the resources and and the fisherfolk are well looked after. When issues might arise, local councils would communicate with the local government units and find solutions through training, legislation, and community organizing. The higher levels (M/I/NFARMCs) would simply smooth out disputes among smaller units and pass general policies as needed.

Of course, no system is perfect. Unfortunately, not all coastal barangay have BFARMCs. Then, not all barangays with BFARMCs meet regularly. And, regularly meeting BFARMCs have their problems, too. Without a solid base of BFARMCs, it’s difficult to have well-organized MFARMCs, and on up the chain to the national level.

Now, in my office (I work at the municipal, or second smallest, level), we have been tasked with re-organizing the MFARMC, despite non to partially functioning BFARMCs. If you have somehow managed to follow me this far, you see why this is an issue. The office I work in is hardworking, but small and tight on resources and manpower. And, these problems are by no means unique to my municipality.

For the record, I think the system in place in the Philippines has great potential. Who better to speak to the concerns of the fishfolk than the fishfolk themselves? They have the most at stake and know the system they live and work within better than anyone else. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, it is not my role to come in and solve all the problems, even if I could. However, I hope to contribute to the solution in my next two years.

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Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to comment/ask questions below.

 

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A Lot Just Happened

All in the past week or so, I left the wonderful barangay I had learned to call home, traveled to Manila, reunited with all the Peace Corps Trainees in my batch, met my work partner, took an oath at the US embassy, and moved to a new island, with new host family. (Also, I finished Harry Potter for the first time.)

First, leaving my CBT (community-based training) site was even harder than I expected. I felt like I couldn’t (and still can’t) possibly express all the gratitude I have for the family that had taken me in those two months. The hardest part was saying goodbye to the three kids. I cried. A lot. It was mildly embarrassing.

Next, we were in Manila, gathered together at a very nice resort a good ways out of the center of the city. It was busy.We had information sessions most of the days and stayed up way too late, savoring the little time we had as a group. Also we went shopping in the heart of Manila and ate Chinese food.  The one morning I had off, I slept more than 12 hours.

 

Then, our work partners arrived, 62 Filipinos from all over the country who had somehow been tricked into spending the next two years with one of us. For two days, we attended sessions together and worked on setting goals and expectations. It was exciting. And awkward.

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Work partner introductions

Our last day in Manila, we took a 3 hour bus ride through heavy traffic to get the the US embassy. I didn’t have much of any feelings one way or another going into the event. I’m not much for ceremonies in general. But, it is kind of a big deal- it marks the official transition from Peace Corps Trainee to Peace Corps Volunteer. It was very formal, but I suppose it was nice. We heard some speeches, took an oath, introduced ourselves in our new languages, and in true Philippines form, performed some song and dance numbers. After taking a few hundred pictures, we loaded back into our buses and drove the 3 hours back to the resort.

Then, we all went right to bed, because, as responsible Peace Corps Volunteers, we had all packed the night before. Joke lang! (“Joke lang” is the PH equivalent of just kidding, used much more frequently.) Most of us packed at the last minute and stayed up entirely too late celebrating and saying good bye and good luck to our batchmates.

Now, I’m at my permanent site. I’m the only volunteer in my municipality and it’s strange telling people that I will be here for 2 years. For the first 3 months at site, we are under a travel ban- meaning anything but day trips is prohibited except under special circumstances. Again, I feel a bit like a newborn baby. I can’t speak the language and have no idea how to get around by myself- also, people smile at me a lot and take my picture.

But, this is still an incredible experience. Just today- I attended a Hiligynon-language Roman Catholic Mass, went to 3 malls, bought a computer, checked out a mountain resort, and ate some iguana. Tomorrow, I’ll be at work by 8 to participate in the LGU (local government unit) flag raising ceremony.

That’s all for now. More to come.