San Fabian lures tourists, illegal fishers
By Yolanda Sotelo
SAN FABIAN – There must be something about this coastal town which attracts tourists, beach lovers, giant sea creatures, and uncrupulous fishermen.
All are welcome, Mayor Constante Agbayani says, except the fishermen who come with illegal fishing gears, explosives and other destructive means to catch fish that abound in the town’s sea space.
The beach goers and tourists are lured by the calm and shallow water of the beach.
The giant sea creatures like whale sharks regularly come to graze whenever the gulf is teeming with tiny fish and shrimps (acetes).
The town is gifted by nature with wide space of sea where seagrass thrive, and which serve as breeding ground for marine animals, Ilocos Regional Director Nestor Domenden of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources says.
The abundant seagrass provide another livelihood for the coastal residents who gather the grasses and sell them to manufacturers of either feeds, cosmetics, food or medicines.
But the marine resources are threatened by the fishermen who have no qualms about destroying the marine environment for easy catch and cash.
“Sometimes the improvised explosives are so strong that the residents feel the earth shake under them, sending shivers down the spine of tourists and residents alike.
Ridding the town of illegal activities is a big challenge that the local officials and law enforcers face.
On Monday, Agbayani met with illegal fishermen (“yes, we are able to identify them,” he says), to order them to stop the environmentally destructive means of fishing.
“I told them that if caught with blasted fish, they will be apprehended and handcuffed when they reach the shore,” he said.
But the gulf is a free-for-all sea space, and fishermen from other towns “encroach” on fishing grounds of other municipalities.
Worse, some of them are backed up by police and military officials, some of them retired and some in active service, a police official from the town says.
The official, who requested not to be named, says a retired police official from nearby Rosario, La Union town, used to operate three trawl fishing boat, a destructive means of fishing. “But perhaps he could not stand the ‘heat’ anymore and sold two of his boats.”
(Trawls are destructive because the nets captures everything on its way, including the fingerlings.)
There was also a fishery law enforcement officer of the town who “turned-coat” and, instead of apprehending illegal fishers, “would come down the boat with vat-full of blasted fish.” He has hence been dismissed from service.
While trawls may be expensive, explosives used to blast the fish are easy to make and the materials are easy to acquire. All that are needed are potassium which can be bought from agricultural supply store, empty bottles and blasting caps. Some fishermen themselves manufacture the explosives and would teach anyone who cares to learn.
The illegal fishers may not be armed but they can use the explosive to threaten law enforcers, Domenden says.
He cited an experience of BFAR law enforcement team who tried to come near a boat used for illegal fishing in Ilocos Norte. The fishermen threatened them with the explosive.
Luckily, the law enforcement team was able to sureptitiously take photos of the boat, those aboard it, and the explosives. The boat was even registered under the BoatR, a registration system of the BFAR of all fishing vessels.
To stop illegal activities at sea, “what is needed are law enforcers who wont succumb to temptations, and more resources like fast boats,” Agbayani says.
The Philippine Navy patrolled the coastal area in 2013, with illegal fishers shuning the town.
But the navy has stopped its patrol so its happy days again for the illegal fishers.
The Philippine Coast Guard plans to establish a station in the town, with the local government donating a 200 square meter lot for the purpose.
There are actually coast guards manning San Fabian but they do not have a boat to go after vessels used for unlawful activities at sea.
Agbayani says it was the staff of the town’s disaster risk reduction and management council who patrol the coastal area, but since they have no speed boat, the vessels they are after have usually sped off when they reach the area where explosion was heard.
The illegal fishermen leave a marker like buoys in the explosion area then return when the law enforcers have left.
What should be done is to gather all the blasted fish so the fishermen would return to nothing, Domenden says.
“Do this for five months and the illegal fishermen would have no income, no money to buy gasoline for their boats, and may stop the nefarious activities,” he says.
The BFAR Ilocos Region has new ten patrol boats for patrolling the Lingayen Gulf and part of the West Philippine Sea, Domenden said. Some BFAR employees were trained on marine law enforcement. The teams manning the boats however, cannot apprehend marine law breakers unless they (teams) are accompanied by police.
What the team can do is talk with the illegal fishers, and ask them to report to the BFAR.
“If they return to their illegal activities, their boats would be confiscated by the authorities,” Domenden said.
Visibility of law enforcers is a deterent to marine crime, Domenden said, citing the comments of illegal fishers that when the BFAR patrol boats are visible, they do not dare use illegal means to fish.
There are frustrated comments like “wadtan la ra lamet! (they are there again!) heard among those engaged in illegal fishing, he said.
On the day the BFAR held a meeting at the PTA resort facing the gulf, not one blasting sound was heard by the resort’s staff.
“It is because there is a patrol boat in the area,” Domenden said.
But fear of authorities should not be the main reason why illegal fishermen should stop. “They should know that everyone, them included, are affected when the marine environment is destroyed,” Domenden said.
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