New BFAR head confronts fish kills and environmental woes
| Internationally-recognized environment lawyer and now the new director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Atty. Asis Perez have his hands full as his first few days of office is greeted by serious environment-related issues.
"It's both good news and bad news", says Dir. Asis who vows that the BFAR, on his watch, would put more emphasis on the protection of the resources as well as on the strict enforcement of fishery laws.
The ongoing fish kills that continue to bring havoc to a number of coastal barangays in Taal Lake and that of the fish cages in the open waters of Anda and Bolinao in Pangasinan for more than a week now, is a grim reminder of our incessant abuse to our environment, he said.
"The government had provided the necessary legislations on the maximum carrying capacity of bodies of waters, however, the same remain useless if the resource users (fish cage operators) would not take heed", Asis stressed.
Sec. 51 of RA 8550, otherwise known as the Fisheries Code of 1998 provides that aquaculture activity shall not exceed 10 percent of the suitable water areas of all lakes and other bodies of water. These municipal waters are under the jurisdiction of the local government units.
"There is no denying that the greatest losers are the operators themselves. But it is very unfortunate that they turn the blames to the national government", Asis lamented as problems ranging from coastal clean-up, disposal of spoiled and decaying fish and the concomitant "fish scare" that continues to bring down the prices of bangus continue to pile up.
Asis said that the bureau is now working closely with concerned local government units to reduce fish mortalities through early harvesting in case of reduction of dissolved oxygen level which happened first in Talisay, and had spread to the adjacent coastal barangays of Laurel, Agoncillo and San Nicolas.
Agriculture Secretary Alcala had also instructed the deployment of 50 units of water pumps for use in the aeration of fish cages. However, this will be lent only to qualified fish operators after the lake overturn has subsided and the lake cleaned up. Bangus fingerlings are being readied by the bureau for distribution to affected marginal fish farmers in the two areas.
The DA is also encouraging the affected fish farmers to bring their harvests in nearby PFDA-operated fish ports for cold storage to prevent more losses due to very poor market prices resulting from the glut. The BFAR will pay for the cold storage fees.
Precious corals seized
In related news, the DENR, PN, PNP, CIDG, BFAR and Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat seized some 30-40 tons of black and red corals including banned helmet and trumpet shells packed in sacks and boxes in a big warehouse in Zamboanga City last Saturday night.
The large haul is estimated to be more than five times the foiled shipment of two container vans containing black corals and stuffed marine turtles seized by the Bureau of Customs reported last May 25.
Following an inter-agency consultation between the said agencies in Zamboanga City , the inspection team seized piles of corals, shells and other marine species inside Yuscom Warehouse at Brgy. San Roque. The seized items are believed to be owned by Olivia Li of the controversial Li & Lim Trading recently involved in the foiled attempt to smuggle black corals and stuffed turtles.
During a Senate Committee hearing chaired by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri held yesterday (June 6) Perez divulged that the BFAR is currently undertaking an inventory while the necessary legal documents are being prepared for the formal filing of criminal charges against the owners of the seized items.
In the same hearing DENR Secretary Ramon Paje suggested that the government could use both the provisions of RA 8550 and the Wildlife Act of 2001 (RA 9147) which imposes more stringent penalties.
The new director is optimistic that with the intensified collaborative efforts being undertaken by the government and the cooperation of the local communities specially the fisherfolk, the crimes against the environment would soon be halted. # # # (DA-BFAR)
BFAR Director Asis Perez - 09228100463
Melanie Guerra - 09175712525