TURNING POINT: The Finite Sea

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/ 30 July) – We often come across the old saying that you “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Not anymore.

This adage in its literal sense was applicable to Confucius’ time when the sea was so huge and was an inexhaustible source of fish. Thus even, if more fishers were added to the existing hands, there would still be fish for everybody.

In the Philippines, the government in the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources still believes in the adage and behaves accordingly. That is why it has been distributing fishing boats and nets to fishers new and old under their anti-poverty and food security program, notwithstanding research reports on the deplorable conditions and the plummeting catch in the country’s fishing grounds.

Truth to tell, the capacity of the sea to replenish whatever resource extracted from it has been compromised by a lot of things – by the rapid change in information and extraction technologies that has shrunk its size resulting to over-exploitation and destruction; by pollution, and by climate change.

There is, for instance, no international law enforceable in the community of nations that regulate the extraction of fishery resources. Thus commercial fishing vessels of wealthy nations employ fishing nets of several kilometres long to maximize catch haul all over the globe. Unfortunately, during extremely foul weather, these nets are severed from the fishing vessels to save the vessels and the crew. Here was born the phenomenon of ghost fishing, where several nets of hundreds of kilometers long are drifting in the oceans catching and killing whales, sharks, turtles, cow fish and other big sea organisms their harvest of which does not benefit anyone.

At the archipelagic level, destructive fishing undermines the natural capacity of the fishery resources to replenish extraction. The situation is made worst by the spiraling number of poor who join the fisher population in order to survive.

The sea is the last refuge of the very poor. Without a farm to till and employable skills, the sea, which does not require any qualifications, accommodates anyone interested to engage in fishing as a livelihood, unreliable it may be as a source of income to feed a family. To increase declining harvest, fishers employ destructive fishing methods like blasting, the use of fine-mesh nets and poison which at the end only diminish further their catch.

Moreover, pollution from various sources is smothering fish nurseries and other habitats that further worsen the productivity of the marine waters.

The advent of climate change has increased the temperature in tropic waters forcing fish to migrate to  cooler regimes up north of the equator, impoverishing, thus the areas left behind.

Hence, what is imperative today is not simply to teach a man how to fish but also  to teach him and everybody in this planet to protect and save the sea.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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