Fishing grounds are often a source of conflict among fishermen, especially between commercial and municipal or small fishers. In the coastal waters of Samar, between 800 and 1,000 commercial fishers unfairly compete with ill-equipped small fishermen. Even with a law banning commercial fishing within 15 kilometers of a locality’s coastline, encroachment of commercial fishers occurs daily.
Calbayog City, on the western part of Samar, had such a problem. The problem was complicated by a boundary dispute with an island municipality neighbor located 13.5 kilometers away. To resolve the dispute, City Mayor Mel Senen S. Sarmiento took the initiative to sponsor a series of dialogues, first with the mayors of four neighboring municipalities, then with commercial and marginal fishers and other stakeholders. The dialogues resulted in the implementation of the Coastal Zoning Project, which delineated the boundaries of municipal waters to establish a “fishing highway.”
Project implementation started with the signing on August 22, 2001 of a memorandum of agreement between Calbayog City and the neighboring municipalities of Sta. Margarita, Sto. Niño, Tagapul-an, and San Isidro. The agreement formalized the establishment of a fishing highway 8 kilometers wide along the coastal boundaries of the municipalities concerned.
The city divided its coastal fishing area into several clustered zones and delegated the function of guarding and monitoring the areas to the fisherfolk of respective clustered barangays. The city shouldered half of the cost of handheld radios needed in monitoring, while barangay funds covered the other half. As a support system, fish wardens were deputized and seaborne patrol operations were strengthened. A Protocol for Coastal Law Enforcers was prepared and seminars on coastal law enforcement were conducted with the neighboring municipalities and police authorities.
Parts of the project were the enactment of the Calbayog City Fishery Code, the establishment of a mariculture zone and fish sanctuaries, seaweed production, and rehabilitation of mangrove areas.
The results were dramatic. Destructive fishing methods were practically eliminated. Fish stocks increased, resulting in lesser fish catching time. Fishermen used to spend five hours to catch two kilos of fish, but this had been reduced to one hour. With more fish being delivered by municipal fishers to the fish port, the number of commercial fishers in the area decreased from 64 to 25. Fishermen on commercial fishing boats acquired their own banca and returned to municipal fishing.
Overall, fish catch in Samar increased from 29,884 metric tons in 1994 to 47,880 metric tons in 2002. This generated more economic activities at the barangay level, where processed fish products like fish polvoron and kropek are now being produced. The tinapa (dried or smoked fish) industry had stabilized because of sustained supply of fish.
Sustainability of the project is ensured by the local fishery code, the ownership stake of municipal fishers on the fishing grounds, the coastal law enforcement protocols, the multi-stakeholder partnerships among and between municipalities and their constituents, and the mainstreaming of the project among concerned agencies and groups, including the PNP police environment desk officer, the city agriculture and fisheries division, and the people’s organizations and NGOs.
The experience in Calbayog City is being replicated by local government units in the whole island of Samar.