Fisherfolk and Agri Officials Sail to Benham Rise, Stake PH Claim with Fishing Markers

On board the government’s multi-mission research vessel, M/V DA-BFAR, fisherfolk and officials from the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) sailed to Philippine Rise on 06-May-2017 and deployed fish aggregating devices, commonly called payao, to stir up more fishing in the region. A traditional Philippine payao is a simple bamboo raft with a superstructure at or just below the waterline, commonly constructed with palm fronds. Using hand-line fishing, fishermen take advantage of the pelagic fish’ attraction to floating objects. Large tuna can be caught using a payao at depths of under 300 meters.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol led the sailing mission of M/V DA-BFAR to stake the country’s claim over the region and develop its potential as an alternative fishing ground for Filipino fishermen. The 13-million hectare Philippine Rise, formerly Benham Rise, is teeming with tuna and other high-value fish species.

“The President gave me his go-ahead to explore the Philippine Rise. It was his directive to assess the potential of the region and to find out what I can about its natural fisheries resources,” said Secretary Manny Piñol. The agency is eyeing the development of Philippine Rise as a Special Fisheries Management Area, an exclusive food supply zone, to optimize its fisheries potential.

Furthermore, BFAR is planning to come up with a Comprehensive Fisheries Management and Development Plan for Philippine Rise to ensure protection and sustainable use of fisheries resources there. This is in parallel with the plan of the fisheries sector to seek alternative fishing grounds for Filipino fishers to ease up fishing pressure on the country’s traditional fishing grounds.

Fisheries Support for the Fisherfolk

15 payaos were deployed in the vicinity of the 35-meter deep Benham Bank, which together with the whole Philippine Rise region was declared by the United Nations as within the Philippine Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) in 2012. Another 14 payaos will be distributed soon and dropped in locations set by fisherfolk recipients.

15 fisherfolk from Central Luzon and Calabarzon joined the sailing mission and helped in mapping the devices’ coordinates. Aside from payaos, they were also given 15 thirty-meter Fiberglass Boats and other fishing paraphernalia.

“We had local fishermen show us where they wanted to place the payaos. We also gave them the necessary fishing gears, such as boats and handlines, so they could check on their payaos and profit from them,” BFAR National Director Eduardo Gongona said, referring to the BFAR’s regular livelihood assistance sorties and the National Payao Program (NPP), which seek to provide marginalized fisherfolk with equipment to jumpstart their income.

Government to Protect Philippine Rise and Filipino Fishers

Director Gongona said the government through BFAR shall support Filipino fishermen setting out to Philippine Rise and ensure their protection against foreign vessels poaching on Philippine waters. The DA-BFAR recommends the installation of a floating structure on Philippine Rise to serve as a research station and docking station for Philippine vessels. The structure will make way for easy-access air transportation through a helipad and increase Philippine government visibility in the region.