Pa-aling fishing stopped in the Philippines
Pa-aling fishing involves divers using hoses attached to a surface air compressor to form a virtual bubble curtain which forces fish out into the nets. Typically, a pa-aling operation uses four boats, each carrying 25 divers.
In 1986, the Department of Agriculture banned muro-ami in Philippine waters because of the tremendous damage it causes to coral reefs. Muro-ami involves skin-divers diving to often dangerous depths to pound the easily broken corals with rocks or pipes to scare fish into a large waiting net.
The ban created economic dislocation to thousands of fishermen and their families in Southern Cebu and Central Visayas, and as a result the modified practice of pa-aling was permitted.
“While the use of pa-aling as a fishing method is not prohibited under the Philippine Fisheries Code, it is strictly being regulated through a Fisheries Administrative Order,” said Eunice Agsaoay-Sano, Director for Legal Affairs at WWF-Philippines.
"The operation of pa-aling in municipal waters and in protected areas, such as the Apo Reef, is illegal. The law is clear."
Not only is fishing in protected waters illegal, but WWF also said that the paaling operation competed with the subsistence of marginal fishermen who have preferential rights over municipal fishery resources.
Last week, 240 pa-aling fishermen aboard the F/V San Tiyago were caught in Apo Reef Marine Park in the western Occidental Mindoro province of the Philippines. The operation was spotted by the Philippines Marine and Apo Reef Law Enforcement for Nature (MARLEN) task force.
“When we arrived at the scene we were surprised to see so many boats in a protected area," said Task Force Team Leader Odelon Dangeros. "There was the F/V San Tiyago plus eight support boats accompanying it. Each support boat had 5–8 fishmen on it.“
The Task Force observed that the fishermen had already caught more than 50 banyeras (big aluminum basins) filled with high value fish, including snappers, fusillers, groupers, giant trevally, and surgeon fish. They also found five compressors — a hazardous breathing apparatus used for underwater fishing.
According to a study by the University of the Philippines–Marine Science Institute, pa-aling is depleting fish stocks, resulting in a decreasing trend in catch-per-unit in many areas, including offshore reefs. The effectiveness of pa-aling has renewed fears of overexploitation in remote reefs, especially those in the South China Sea.
Additional research by marine ecologists show that fishermen can catch up to 50 per cent of a fish's standing stock after a short series of dives in an area.
“Protected areas are established by reason of their unique physical and biological significance, managed to enhance biological diversity and protected against human exploitation," said Agsaoay-Sano.
"They have been set aside in order to ensure the continuous existence of native natural resources for the Filipino people and future generations.“
So far, five crew members of F/V San Tiyago have been temporarily placed under custody at a municipal police station. The provincial prosecutor has filed a criminal case against the suspects.
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John Manul, Project Manager
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