REACTION: What the Philippine fisheries sector can learn from Typhoon Haiyan



Posted on 13 November 2013  | 
Jose Ingles
© Jose InglesEnlarge
By Dr. Jose Ingles, WWF Coral Triangle Program Strategy Leader

On November 8, Haiyan, the strongest typhoon to ever hit the Philippines, crossed the Visayan Islands, packing winds of more than 300km per hour when it hit land. It left in its wake massive destruction to life and property. The scale of devastation could only be described as a great human tragedy.

While scientists debate on the link between climate change and the severity and increased frequency of typhoons, one thing is clear: the most at risk from typhoons and storm surges are coastal areas where many fishing villages are located.

Climate, changed

Typhoon Haiyan made me realize that the occurrence of typhoons of such magnitude is something that is already happening to people and the planet right now. While we worry over lots of meetings about mainstreaming climate change, we have failed to realize that this change is currently happening and it is here with us, and we need to act immediately.

In the aftermath of this typhoon, we can no longer talk and plan about solving resource depletion, overfishing, and habitat destruction without taking into account impacts of this “changed” climate, especially in the fisheries sector.

More storms, less fishing

The Philippines, under a climate changed scenario will probably be characterized by more and severe typhoons, storm surges, intensified monsoon winds, all of which will directly affect the fisheries sector—an industry that feeds millions of people and provides much needed livelihoods.

What are the potential consequences of these weather patterns and how do we better prepare the fisheries sector of a country so dependent on it?

As the severity and frequency of typhoons increase, we will have to reckon with the decrease in the number of effective fishing days. Monsoon winds have long indicated a natural closed season to fishing. In the past several years however, non-fishing days have increased at least for tuna handline fishing—a consequence brought about by unproductive near-shore fishing grounds, which have forced fishers to shift their operations to offshore areas to fish further in more treacherous waters.

Tuna fisheries production for both purse seiners and handliners operating in the eastern and western seaboards of the country is expected to go down in the next few months since typhoon Haiyan has practically destroyed many of the anchored fish aggregating devices (FADs) that are used to attract tuna. It will take some time for new FADs to be deployed and fish to aggregate beneath these structures.

The destruction of FADs however, provides the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) a rare opportunity to implement the national FAD law that requires the registration and licensing of FADs. This law also sets a limit on the number of FADs that each catcher vessel could deploy.

Learning from Haiyan

In times of inclement weather, fishing boats seek refuge in rivers and coves to protect their boats and other fishing assets. Typhoon Haiyan exposed the need to identify more suitable areas to build stronger ports that will protect fisheries assets from destruction.

A law recently awarded many of the fishing villages as settlement areas, a victory for fishers who have long wished to get ownership of the land they occupy. Given this most recent development, more suitable settlement areas together with better designed houses made of light materials and better preparedness will be crucial to managing these risks for those living in coastal areas.

Similarly, an early warning system on oncoming typhoons needs to alert all fishing villages to reduce the loss of lives.

Typhoon Haiyan and its impacts to lives and property provides us with a lot of information that will guide us as we plan, innovate, and design the future of the country’s fisheries sector. This typhoon reminds us of the need to rethink and plan well as we start the rebuilding of our ports, the reconstruction of our fishing villages, the redesigning of our fishing boats with navigation gadgets and emergency provisions, and the inclusion of warning systems to prevent another large-scale human tragedy from occurring.

There is no other way but to move forward and learn from this tragedy.
 
Jose Ingles
© Jose Ingles Enlarge
Boats parked high above the water line during inclement weather
© Jose Ingles Enlarge
A fisherman prepares his handline fishing gear
© Alanah Torralba / WWF Coral Triangle Program Enlarge

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