The history of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources began when the country’s civil government was established on 4 July 1901. It was the Philippine Commission who conceived the idea of creating an office under the Department of Interior to take charge of the conservation, promotion and development of the country’s fisheries resources. Despite the keen interest of the Secretary of Interior, the proposal for the creation of the said office did not materialize. Finally, in 1907, studies on fisheries emerged when the Secretary of the Interior sought the services of the U.S. Fish Commission’s research fishing vessel “Albatross” to work in Philippine waters for eighteen months. The said event had led to the employment of an American fisheries specialist in the Bureau of Science which consequently gave birth to the fisheries division. The Fisheries Division remained in the Bureau of Science until the end of 1932.
One year after the establishment of the Fisheries Division under the Bureau of Science, on 1 January 1933, by virtue of General Memorandum Order No. 4 dated 5 December 1932 issued by the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, the Fisheries and Zoology Divisions of the Bureau of Science plus the Division of Forest Fauna and Grazing of the Bureau of Forestry were fused together in one division, known as the Fish and Game Administration. The new office which resulted from the merging of the three offices from two separate bureaus was placed under the direct administrative jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce.
The Fish and Game Administration took its mandate from the provisions of the Fisheries Act No. 4003 and Act No. 2590, entitled “An Act for the Protection of Game and Fish”. The jurisdiction however of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce over the Fish and Game Administration was short lived as subsequent reorganization process which took place on 27 September 1934 brought back the management of the said office to the Bureau of Science in an effort to strengthen its operation in terms of manpower, equipment and other resources.
The operation of the Fish and Game Administration when it was returned to the Bureau of Science lasted only for five years. On 1 July 1939, the office was again reorganized as an independent unit, placed again under the Department of Agriculture and Commerce and renamed as Division of Fisheries by virtue of General Administrative Order No. 15. The functions pertaining to forest fauna and grazing were returned to the Bureau of Forestry and those of the Division of Zoology to the Bureau of Science.
The Division of Fisheries, as a special division under the Department of Agriculture and Commerce functioned until the outbreak of World War II in 1941. During the early days of the war, the Division of Fisheries and the Bureau of Forestry were merged together and became known as the Bureau of Forestry and Fishery. In the latter part of the enemy’s occupation, however, the Division of Fisheries was converted into an independent office known as the Bureau of Fisheries.
Three years after liberation from the enemy’s occupation, the Congress of the Philippines, cognizant of the importance of fisheries and aquatic resources conservation to the rehabilitation of the country’s prostrate economy brought about by the war, enacted Republic Act No. 177 creating the Bureau of Fisheries which took effect on 1 July 1947. The former Division of Fisheries and its sections, field districts, and experimental stations including all fishery-related activities of national government agencies were integrated in the Bureau of Fisheries.
When it was founded in 1947, the Bureau of Fisheries had seven functional divisions, namely, (1) Administrative Division; (2) Division of Fish Culture and Fisheries Biology; (3) Division of Commercial Fisheries; (4) Division of Fisheries Technology; (5) Division of Licenses and Regulations; (6) Division of Investigation and Inspection; and (7) Philippine Institute of Fisheries Technology offering a 2 ½ college course in fisheries. Subsequently, branches of this institute offering a 4-year secondary course in fisheries were established in Samar, Cebu, Albay, Iloilo, Zamboanga City, Antique and Batangas.
Following the same organization effort, the entire Philippines was divided into ten fishery districts, each with a District Fishery Officer as head. The headquarters of the ten (10) fishery districts were located in strategic places in the different fishing regions: Fishery District No. 1-Aparri, Cagayan; 2-Dagupan City; 3-Manila; 4-Naga City; 5-Catbalogan, Samar; 6-Iloilo City; 7-Coron, Palawan; 8-Cebu City; 9-Davao City; and 10-Zamboanga City.
The establishment of the Bureau of Fisheries on 1 July 1947 has been considered as the official foundation day of the organization which is being celebrated every year up to this day.
Executive Order No. 216, dated 17 November 1956 implemented Reorganization Plan No. 30-A reorganizing the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Following this event, the Bureau of Fisheries which was reorganized on 16 January 1957, almost a decade after its creation. With this reorganization, functional divisions of the Bureau had been reduced from seven to five, namely: 1) Licenses and Regulations Division; (2) Marine Fisheries Division; (3) Fisheries Research Division; (4) Inland Fisheries Division; and (5) Administrative Services Division.
The Philippine Institute of Fisheries Technology had been transferred to the University of the Philippines. The seven secondary schools of fisheries in the provinces previously mentioned had been transferred to the Department of Education under the administration of the Bureau of Public Schools. On 20 March 1963, R.A. 3512 reorganized the Bureau of Fisheries and became the Philippine Fisheries Commission. In summary, the government fisheries agency had undergone three reorganization efforts during the 50s and the 60s.
At the dawn of the new decade during the 70s, a new reorganization initiative was introduced. On 20 September 1972, under the Integrated Reorganization Plan, the Philippine Fisheries Commission was reverted to the Bureau of Fisheries. Two years thereafter, by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 461 signed on 17 May 1974 which reorganized the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources, the agency was renamed as Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and thus the birth of the acronym “BFAR”. The newly reorganized fisheries bureau during that time was placed under the Ministry of Natural Resources. On the following year, however, after Presidential Decree No. 461 was enacted, the BFAR aligned its operations with Presidential Decree of 1975 otherwise known as P.D. 707 where all fishery legislations had codified into. It ushered in a new era for Philippine fisheries where it encouraged the maximum utilization of the fisheries resources in an integrated manner while putting limits to fishing by reserving the seven kilometer zone to small-scale fisherfolk.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources remained with the Ministry of Natural Resources for one decade until the agency was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food on 30 June 1984 in compliance with Executive Order No. 967 mandating the conversion of BFAR as a staff Bureau and integrating its Regional Offices with the Regional Offices of the Department of Agriculture. The agency’s staff function and integration of its regional offices to the Department of Agriculture was fully implemented on 30 January 1987 with the issuance of Executive Order 116 signed by former President Corazon C. Aquino.
Consequently, after a series of reorganizations in 1997, BFAR’s services were delivered through the nine (9) functional divisions: the Fisheries Policy Research and Economics Division, Fishery Resources Administration Division, Fisheries Development and Support Services Division, Aquaculture Division, Fisheries Resources Research Division, EEZ Exclusive Economic Zone Fisheries and Allied Services Division, Fishing Technology Division, Fisheries Regulation and Quarantine Division, and Post-Harvest Technology Division. It also has eight (8) fisheries technology centers under its wing: The National Marine Fisheries Development Center, National Brackishwater Aquaculture Technology Research Center, National Freshwater Fisheries Technology Research Center, Tanay Freshwater Experimental Station, Fisheries Biological Station Complex, National Fisheries Research Development Center, National Seaweeds Technology and Development Center and the Mindanao Freshwater Fisheries Technology Center.
While at the height of Social Reform Agenda (SRA) implementation where the government actively pushed for the equal access to development opportunities in addressing the long-standing problem of poverty among other related issues including that of the environment, on 25 February 1998 President Fidel V. Ramos signed into law Republic Act No. 8550 entitled, “An Act Providing for the Development, Management and Conservation of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Integrating All Laws Pertinent Thereto and for Other Purposes,” otherwise known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 which took effect on 23 March 1998.
The enactment of the Philippine Fisheries Code was a welcome breakthrough and considered a major milestone as this law provides for the reconstitution of BFAR as a line bureau under the Department of Agriculture and created the position of Undersecretary for Fisheries, thereby strengthening the services of the organization for the fishing industry. It also enabled the agency to build strong government and private sector partnership, mainly with the fisherfolk sector through the institutionalization of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils or FARMCs at the national and local level.
Under the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, the BFAR is headed by a National Director and assisted by two Assistant Directors who supervise the administrative and technical services of the bureau respectively. Furthermore, the said law was instrumental in the establishment of regional and provincial offices to carry out efficiently and effectively its provisions.
Despite some limitations in fully implementing the provisions of the Philippine Fisheries Code, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources undoubtedly benefited from the said law to improve its capabilities in serving the fishery sector. Nevertheless, the agency was haunted with myriad of challenges when the new millennium had set in. One of which is the threat brought about by unabated illegal, unreported and unregulated or IUU fishing which undermines not only the sustainability of the country’s fisheries and aquatic resources, but also the livelihood of people depending on them. It was during this period that the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ (DA-BFAR) research arm, the National Fisheries Research Development Institute through the National Stock Assessment Project or NSAP revealed that 10 out of 13 of the country’s fishing grounds have shown signs of overfishing.
The government through the DA-BFAR under the Aquino Administration acknowledged the problem on the ailing state of the fisheries and aquatic resources and initiated measures to address them. To further capacitate the organization in preventing further resource degradation, from a budget of 3.3 billion pesos in 2010 to more than 6 billion in 2015, the DA-BFAR incessantly worked for this budget increase. On top of this effort was the BFAR National Director who at that time concurrently functioned as the Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary for Fisheries by virtue of a Special Order No. 762 dated 10 October 2014.
While the DA-BFAR was focused on strengthening its institutional capacity, particularly on fishery law enforcement, in 2015, the bureau welcomed the passing of Republic Act No. 10654 entitled “An Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, Amending Republic Act No. 8550, Otherwise Known as ‘The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998,” and for Other Purposes”. The amended fisheries code which lapsed into law on 27 February 2015 had paved the way to a more improved fisheries governance with the DA-BFAR at the forefront of its implementation. Finally, the amended fisheries code boosted the credibility of the country in its fight against IUU fishing.
The DA-BFAR opened a new chapter in history when the Duterte Administration had formally assumed into office during the middle part of 2016. This was when the organization focused on achieving fish sufficiency through improved yet sustainable fisheries production, while contributing to the government’s effort towards food security. It was also during this period when the relentless campaign against IUU fishing was prioritized under the Department of Agriculture’s “Ten Basic Foundations of a Sound Agriculture and Fisheries.”
At the center of the bureau’s programs and projects, particularly on marine life conservation under the Duterte Administration was the Malinis at Masaganang Karagatan or MMK Program, the national search for outstanding coastal community. Through MMK, best practices on coastal resource management has been incentivized by the bureau. Winning local government units with exemplary performance in the protection of their respective municipal waters received multi-million pesos worth of livelihood projects as prize based on the following criteria: no illegal fishing; observance of closed fishing season; with marine protected area; and effective mangrove rehab program and clean ocean.
In capping off, the DA-BFAR will unceasingly weave the account of its past by remaining committed to fulfill its mandate with utmost dedication and competence in the present. New challenges and breakthroughs will definitely continue to unfold while the organization sails towards new horizons.