The long strip of blue sea between the islands of Ticao and Burias in Masbate Province is recognized by the Bureau of Fish and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Greenpeace as one of the Philippine water which has the most diverse marine ecosystem. Sad to say, it is also in danger from over-fishing and abuse by big commercial fishing boats.
Vince Cinches, Ocean Campaigner for Greenpeace, said that the Burias-Ticao Pass is under threat of losing its rich diversity of tropical and commercial fish if the local government and the communities around it would not make the effort to protect it from ‘superlights’, large commercial fishing vessels that catch fish by the hundred tons for every time they venture out of the sea.
These large fishing vessels are prohibited by local laws and ordinances from fishing within municipal waters because they rob local small fishermen aside from endangering the population of fish their every year.
Being one with the people in protecting Mother Nature and the livelihood of local fishermen, the Spear Troopers organized the Ligao, Albay Task Force to guard the municipal waters within and around the Burias-TicaoPass from unreported and unregulated fishing.
The Task Force, composed by residents and fishermen trained to become Cafgus under the 21st Infantry Battalion, works closely with BFAR and the local governments of Albay and Masbate in patrolling the Pass and apprehending illegal fishermen who should fish only in the high seas.
Francisco Ombao of BFAR said that this combined effort with the military is the only one of its kind in the Philippines.
“The Task Force has caught the largest percentage of the illegal fishers we have apprehended this year,” he said. He also said that the Task Force is very effective in catching superlights.
He added that he is glad that the military has gone the extra mile of training the members to become Cafgus as it gave them the permission to carry firearms in the exercise of their duties. He said it became necessary to deputize the members and allow them to have their own arms because some of the crew members of the commercial fishing vessels were also armed.
The Task Force is also responsible for apprehending fishermen that use illegal fishing measures like dynamite fishing or using nets with very small holes that catch even the fingerlings.
Protecting the Burias-Ticao Pass is in line with the efforts of the Army in alleviating poverty in the countryside by ensuring and securing the livelihood of the community. Without big competition, the fishermen will be able to catch enough fish for their own needs and the community market.
Aside from this, the biodiversity of the Pass is also protected from abuse because regulating fishing ensures that only the mature fish are caught while leaving the fingerlings enough time to grow, mature and reproduce, thereby replenishing the population.