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November 20, 2012 12:28 AM

VISAYAN Sea fishermen identified with the activist fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) announced a series on protest starting November 21 to denounce what they called "unthinkable and mind-boggling" fish ban recently imposed by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) all over the Visayas seas.

Two days ago, the BFAR announced the implementation of the ban, which would start Thursday (November 15) and end in March 2013, would increase the production of mackerel and sardines in the Visayas by 20 percent, said BFAR national director Asis Perez.

The fishing ban covers the Visayan seas, which covers the waters of Masbate and fishing grounds encompassed by the Western, Central and Eastern Visayas regions.

BFAR said the coverage of the prohibition on sardine and mackerel fishing will start from the mouth of the Danao River on the northeastern tip of the Bantayan Island to Madridejos, through the light house on the Gigantes Island to Clutaya Island, to Culasi Point in Capiz Province, coastward along the northern coast of Capiz to Bulacaue Point in Carles, Iloilo, southward along the eastern coast of Iloilo to the mouth of Talisay River, westward across Guimaras Strait to Tomonton Point in Occidental Negros, eastward along the northern coast of the Island of Negros and back to the mouth of Danao River in Escalante, Negros Occidental.

In a joint press statement, Pamalakaya-Eastern Visayas, Pamalakaya- Panay and Guimaras Island, Pamalakaya-Negros Island, Pamalakaya-Central Visayas, Pamalakaya-Masbate, the research group Fisheries Marine and Environmental Research Institute (FMERI) and the Visayan Sea Fisherfolk Forum (VSFF) said a Visayan Sea coordinated protest on the occasion of World Fish Day will be staged to oppose the fish ban imposed by BFAR.

"On Nov.21, the World Fish Day will be marked by Visayan fishers with  a very, very strong political and moral statement against the fish ban. We urge President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to rethink this fish ban or brace himself with a highly predictable Visayan fisherfolk revolt against fish ban," said Victor Lapaz, chairperson of Pamalakaya-Central Visayas and spokesperson of VSFF.

"The fisherfolk of Visayan Sea were never consulted on this fish ban. We were never consulted because the ulterior motive of this ban is to kill our livelihood and deny our rights to fishing and livelihood in wholesale fashion. The brains behind this fish ban in Visayas Seas only want to promote foreign ocean grabbing, oil and gas exploration and other ocean based corporate activities that would make World Bank clients and imperial powers billions of dollars richer. The ulterior motive of this fish ban is to facilitate ocean grabbing and plunder and not sustainable fishing and resource generation," said Lapaz. Pamalakaya vice-chairperson Salvador France the fish ban in Visayas Sea is connected with the soon to be resumed oil and gas exploration in Visayas Sea. The fisherfolk leader said the Philippine government is still pursuing a major oil and gas exploration across Visayas sea that would cover nearly 1 million hectares of offshore waters in the Visayan Sea.

France said the Australian firm NorAsia Energy Limited is persistent in conducting oil and gas exploration in the Visayan Sea. He said NorAsia is focusing on Area 8 Service Contract 69 that would allow it to oil and gas group to explore 7,400 square kilometers of marine waters encompassing the Cebu-Bohol Strait, a narrow sea strait separating the island provinces of Cebu and Bohol, and parts of Leyte in the East Visayan basin.

Pamalakaya said the entire offshore mining activity will cover 445,000 hectares of marine waters over a seven-year period based on the agreement signed by NorAsia and its Filipino partner-the TransAsia Oil and Energy Development Corporation. In 2007, NorAsia acquired 146 square kilometers of 3D seismic data over two prospects in Service Contract 51. It said Area 8 of Service Contract 69 offers significant follow-up potential in additional structures if initial drilling in Service Contract 512 is successful.

NorAsia said Service Contract 69 has approximately 3,000 kilometers of existing 2D seismic and an active petroleum system as shown by the abundant onshore oil seeps and seismic supported direct hydrocarbon indicators on prospects in the area. Pamalakaya argued that the fish ban that may pave the way for the resumption of oil and gas exploration will affect the livelihood of more than 100,000 small fishermen and 500,000 dependents, and will further exacerbate the problem of food security of nearly 100 million Filipinos.

Pamalakaya and its island wide chapters in Panay and Guimaras, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Samar, Leyte, Negros Island and Masbate  said the fish ban and the resumption of oil and gas exploration will have a devastating impact on fish production in Region VI composed of provinces Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental which account for an average for 350,000 metric tons of fish harvest per year, while Region VII composed of Negros Oriental, Bohol, Cebu and Siquijor account for 205,000 metric tons of fish produced. Region VIII is made up of Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Samar, Western Samar and Southern Leyte yield and average of 100,000 metric tons of fish per year.

Moreover, oil and gas drilling operations produce huge amounts of water waste ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 metric tons of highly toxic water waste materials per drilling. The seismic tests, which are part of the exploration stage, damage the hearing organs of marine species, cause hemorrhage in body tissues, and damage their reproductive organs.

Pamalakaya said seismic blasting could cause behavioral modifications and reduce or eliminate available habitat for breeding, spawning, foraging and migration. Seismic noises can alter fish distribution by tens of kilometers and can elicit physiological dilemma.

BFAR argued that the previous fishing ban enforced in the Zamboanga Peninsula, covering the East Sulu Sea, Basilan Strait and Sibuguey Bay from December 1 last year to February 28 this year, resulted in the increase of sardine production from 63,351 metric tons in the second quarter of 2011 to 72,446 metric tons in the same quarter of this year.

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