WASHINGTON, D.C. — Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr. and Agriculture Undersecretary for Fisheries and concurrent Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) Director Eduardo Gongona led the Philippine delegation to the “Our Ocean” Conference held in Washington D.C. on 15-16 September 2016.
The Our Oceans conference brings together heads of state, scientists, business leaders, NGOs, and others to tackle key issues including marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and climate-related impacts on the ocean.
This year’s Our Ocean Conference, the third edition and titled “Our Ocean, One Future,” built on international commitments to protect the ocean made at the previous two conferences, and has prompted more than 136 new initiatives on marine conservation and protection that are valued at over $5.24 billion and covers almost four million square kilometers of ocean.
At this year’s Our Ocean Conference, the Philippines announced its participation in a US initiative launched by Secretary of State John Kerry called the “Safe Ocean Network” – an initiative to create a global community to better combat illegal fishing around the world through knowledge sharing and better coordination.
More than 40 counter illegal fishing projects worth over $82 million are affiliated with the Safe Ocean Network. Partners include Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the European Union, Gabon, Ghana, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Portugal, Senegal, Seychelles, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, Vanuatu; and other non-governmental and multilateral institutions dealing with the issue of illegal fishing.
“As a Safe Ocean Network partner, the Philippines is committed to undertake activities to better combat illegal fishing. The DA-BFAR has been a partner of the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the USAID since 2015 on the “night lights” satellite boat detection using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). The application of VIIRS has been most useful in fisheries management during the closed season for fishing of sardines and round scads in major fishing grounds. VIIRS has successfully set up alert services in areas covered by the closed season. These open source data proved to be more useful in assessing the effectiveness of new policies, monitoring fishing activities, fish stocks, and enforcement purposes,” stated Undersecretary Gongona in announcing Philippine support for the Safe Ocean Network.
The DA-BFAR and the US Department of the Interior (US DOI) partnership provided technical assistance and support in the development of the Fishery Law Enforcement Management Information System (FLEMIS) and the Fishery Law Enforcement Manual of Operations (FLEMOP), including the capacity-building component for Fisheries Regulations Officers.
The partnership of DA-BFAR and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) of the US Department of State has also supported the capability-building of BFAR fishery law enforcement and executive staff on various areas of fishery law. Being a major fish producing country with 1.7 million fisher folk dependent on the fisheries, the Philippines is seriously committed to combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing.
At the Conference, with RARE, a conservation organization in collaboration with Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) likewise announced the creation of a $20 million Meloy Fund for Small-Scale Fisheries, a first-of-its-kind attempt to attract private impact investments in community small-scale fisheries in the Philippines and Indonesia. The GEF investment in this fund is part of its commitment to promote sustainable fisheries worldwide, protect marine ecosystems and foster partnerships with the private sector.
“Despite providing half the world’s fish, constituting the vast majority of fishing-sector employment and encompassing our most critical marine habitat, there is a yawning gap in investment in the sector. The Meloy Fund aims to bridge that gap and further incentivize sustainable small-scale fishing practices,” said Rare CEO Brett Jenks.
“The Philippine delegation expressed appreciation for the efforts to put up the Meloy Fund that may benefit fishing communities, particularly the small fishers in the Philippines, through capital investments in commercially viable enterprises that adopt sustainable fishing behaviours,” Undersecretary Gongona said.
“The protection of our oceans, therefore, is a global imperative and I am confident that the Philippines will continue to play a vital role in the protection of our oceans,” he added.
Future Our Ocean Conferences will be hosted by the European Union in Malta in 2017, Indonesia in 2018, and Norway in 2019.
While in Washington, D.C. Secretary Yasay engaged in dialogues with US lawmakers and officials at the US State Department, National Security Council and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. He also participated in a forum at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, and interacted with members of the Filipino community in a special Talakayan sa Pasuguan.