Recovering Philippine Fisheries

Latest update July 17, 2018 Started on July 17, 2018
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The Philippines host the world’s richest store of marine biodiversity, coral reefs, and other magnificent ocean ecosystems which are extremely important for food security and tourism. However, all of this is under threat from decades of overfishing. The good news is that we know how to solve this problem: collect data, do the science, manage the fisheries according to what the science says, and create incentives that will ensure good compliance. More good news: increasing awareness of the dire state of fisheries in the Philippines has resulted in a new law and lots of enthusiasm to fix these fisheries. But there are few data to start them down the path of reform, and scientists using standard methods have only been able to survey a small fraction of them. So our expedition will use Trident underwater drones to generate much more data on the status of fish stocks, coral reefs, and other marine ecosystems in the Philippines. We will build on our years of capacity-building in the Philippines as well as our excellent relationships and partnerships with government agencies and universities to make sure that these data flow into strong management systems that use the data to make science-based management regulations, and that provide the right incentives for compliance. We’ll start in the Lagonoy Gulf near Tabaco City where we already have a fisheries project going. We’re confident that if the underwater drones can successfully collect the data we need, this method can scale rapidly and facilitate scientific management of fisheries throughout the country.

July 17, 2018
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Expedition Background

The Philippines, which lies at the heart of the ocean's biodiversity, is highly dependent on fisheries for food security, export earnings, and economic development. Many of the country’s fish stocks have been depleted by decades of overfishing, which has also damaged precious coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. Growing recognition of this problem has resulted in a new law that encourages science-based management that will rebuild these stocks, and thereby improve food production, profits, and jobs in these fisheries. This has created a big opportunity to improve both ocean conservation and human welfare, but it is constrained by the lack of data and science. Scientists using conventional surveys have only been able to study a small fraction of the Philippines’ hundreds of fisheries, which are spread among over 8,000 islands.


In the Philippines, we are working with a team of scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the nation’s fishery management agency, to collect data on the abundance of the 20 main species harvested from coral reefs in the Gulf of Lagonoy (Bicol Peninsula, Luzon Island). Our plan is to provide Trident underwater drones to BFAR technicians who would first fly the Tridents along standard transects that have been surveyed by divers, and then analyze still and video images to quantify fish density (number/area surveyed) and habitat quality (using metrics such as coral cover, macroalgal cover, grazer density, etc). This will allow us to compare metric data gathered by the divers and by the Tridents, and to calibrate future analyses. Total fish density will be compared inside and outside of no-take marine reserves to estimate the level of depletion by fishing (the density ratio), and to ascertain the status of the coral reefs relative to “tipping points” (certain density ratios associated with dramatic changes in coral reef status) that have been quantified for Philippine coral reefs. If possible, BFAR technicians will also estimate fish lengths from the images that can be used to calculate fishing exploitation rate and the reproductive capacity of these 20 fish populations.

These analytical outputs would then be used to guide fishery control measures aimed at bring abundance and fishing exploitation rates closer to target levels. EDF and our partners have made great progress toward creating better, science based management systems in the Philippines by building capacity within BFAR and the academic community with a series of trainings and tools over several years. We anticipate that successful use of underwater drones in Lagonoy Gulf can be replicated and scaled relatively quickly by leveraging our ongoing trainings and strong relationships with BFAR leadership. By overcoming the major barrier to science-based management, the data collected by the Tridents will unlock the huge potential for fisheries recovery to feed people and enhance economic development while protecting critically important marine ecosystems in the Philippines.

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Excited to follow along Rod. Thanks for all the important work you are doing.

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