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Illegal fishing in Bicol, Philippines

Decades of illegal fishing practices have decimated fish populations in Bicol. The Sagñay Tuna Fishing Association has fought poachers with improved success after the murder of their secretary, Gerlie Alpajora.


In the Bicol region, fish populations have been decimated owing to decades of overfishing and illegal fishing practices. Out of 24 fishing grounds, 13, or 54% of them, are overexploited from overfishing, threatening the livelihoods of the local communities and the marine ecosystem [6]. Consequently, fishermen violate regulations more than ever, catching increasingly smaller fish, restricted species, going to prohibited zones, and using ecologically destructive, illegal methods [5, 7]. Examples include using nets poisoned with cyanide or pesticides and dynamite blasting, which violate Section 92 of Republic Act 10654 (banning fishing with explosives, poisons, or electricity) [11]. An average of 10,000 dynamite blasts are estimated to occur every day [5]. Large trawling boats also illegally poach fish at night in areas reserved only for small municipal fishing boats, which leaves little left for marginalized legal village fishers [7, 8]. Whereas these small-scale fishermen using traditional methods used to be able to easily catch more than 10kg of fish per day in the 1950s, they now find at most 5kg per day, many days much less [5]. In some dynamited areas, there are no fish at all. Even if officials know who the illegal fish poachers are, they cannot be charged unless caught in the act, a tough task for the fishing village police forces which have very few boats that are also too slow [14]. Widespread corruption and indifferent local politicians are also major factors enabling the fishing crisis. Mayors often receive millions in bribes to turn a blind eye to commercial fishing vessels to illegally operate in coastal waters [7]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Illegal fishing in Bicol, Philippines
State or province:Bicol
Location of conflict:Sagñay
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Fish
Project Details and Actors
Project details

To prepare dynamite, illegal fishers mix kerosene with white ammonium nitrate beads, a fertilizer that has been illegal in the Philippines since 2002, but is easily purchased in sacks from smugglers. They make detonators, the glass bottles with the explosives. The fuses give approximately four seconds to throw the bomb before it explodes, though many men can be blinded, deafened, permanently disfigured, or killed from poorly made dynamite. However, dynamite fishing can help the poachers catch anywhere between 10 to 20kg of fish compared to legal net fishers who catch less than 2kg on a good day. Illegal fish poaching is often the best and fastest source of income in the region [14].

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:30/05/1970
Relevant government actors:Philippine National Police (PNP)
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sagñay Tuna Fishers Association (STFA), WWF Philippines, Save Philippine Seas, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, Oceana Philippines, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Bicol Consortium for Development Initiatives Inc., Greenpeace Philippines, Tambuyog Development Center Inc., Pangisda Pilipinas, PKSK (National Union of Rural Based Organizations, and RARE Philippines
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Violations of human rights
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Gerlie Menchie Alpajora was shot dead on July 29, 2015.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Although those working against illegal fishing practices continue to face many violent threats for their activism, collaboration with police and international ENGOs inspired by the death of Gerlie Alpajora has led to a remarkable success arresting 300% more fish criminals than before. The movement is also working to make new and improved laws punishing commercial fishing vessels' illegal activities now that there was already a legal success taking away the license of one of them in 2020. Some movements outside of Bicol are also working to declare more fishing grounds as fish sanctuaries.
Sources & Materials

[3] ABS-CBN News. Group condemns killing of fisheries advocate in CamSur (2015)
[click to view]

[4] The Manila Times. Anti-illegal fishing advocate killed (2015)
[click to view]

[5] Opinyon. Pinoy fishers catching smaller fishes, earning less (2015)
[click to view]

[9] Philippines Information Agency. Satellite imaging helps monitor illegal fishing in Bicol (Balala 2019)
[click to view]

[13] Phillipine News Agency. Vessel license revocation curbs illegal fishing (2020)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update17/02/2020
Conflict ID:4952
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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