REACTION : Back to Basics: A Closer Look at Fisheries Education
I participated in two consultation meetings over the past two weeks, which were called to discuss policies to improve the management of key fisheries resources in the Philippines.
Attending as a resource person, I was alarmed by some of the comments made by bureaucrats and fisheries biologists present at the meeting, who showed their ignorance of some very basic principles of fisheries management.
Many stakeholders believed that the traditional hook and line fishing method cannot overfish an area, even under an open-access regime, or that the use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) or payaos do not contribute to increased fishing effort. Even more shocking is a fisheries biologist’s point of view that scientific studies, even if it they already 10 years old, are a better basis for policy over a more precautionary approach.
I have often wondered why, despite huge investments (running in the millions of dollars) in aid projects over the past 20 years, the Philippines’ fisheries management and governance have not improved at all. Many would argue that it has even turned worse.
This had me thinking that perhaps we have overlooked the quality of our fisheries education and basic training for our bureaucrats. As a result, we have failed to produce highly qualified biologists and researchers capable of providing adequate and relevant science for policies and decision making aimed at improving fisheries management and governance.
There are over 40 fisheries schools in the Philippines. Where are their graduates?
Over the last 8 years, the fisheries course has been professionalized. This means that for a fisheries graduate to practice the profession, they have to pass the government-sanctioned board examinations. Every year, less than 100 candidates take this board examination and only between 50-60% make the cut. Where are the rest? How are they employed, if at all? Are they some of those who provide fisheries science? I wish I knew the answers.
In the realm of fisheries management, science plays a central role. In fact, policies enacted to protect and manage fisheries resources depend on good science, not on lobbying by vested-interest groups.
However, getting good science is premised on the collection of accurate data that are analyzed and turned into useable information, which is then translated into policy, and implemented by the bureaucrats. And for science to be good, it needs to be peer reviewed and published to satisfy its two basic tenets: replicability; and robustness.
There is a great need to revisit the fisheries curriculum in the country. We may need to revise our curriculum, incorporate new tools and technologies to improve learning and the quality of its graduates. There is a standard in place under the Commission on Higher Education that is supposed to regulate the quality of schools. The fisheries school’s performance is rated based on its graduates’ passing rate in the state-given board exams.
With the dismal performance of many of these schools, one would think that their numbers should go down. But this hasn’t been the case: the numbers of fisheries schools have, in fact, even gone up as more secondary schools were upgraded simply for political reasons. There are no privately-owned fisheries colleges because state-owned fisheries schools are established to accommodate the growing population, offering lower tuition fees.
There is also a need for upcoming bureaucrats to undergo training on the basic principles of fisheries governance. Likewise, the research capacity and logistical support for research needs to be provided. A culture of learning by providing incentives to those who publish their scientific results needs to be in place. We need good science in order to ensure that the policies are robust enough to manage our resources.
And for the rest of the stakeholders, we need to inculcate the culture of reading and learning and getting informed about the latest on fisheries. There is no other way.
Learning the basics is a big first step forward.