cyanide and blast fishing update

Coral Health and Monitoring Program coral at
Tue Feb 4 12:02:27 EST 1997

Forwarded message from cemrino at

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 3 Feb 1997 16:42:37 +0800
From: CEMRINO, Inc. <cemrino at>
To: hendee at
Subject: To coralist: preserves

      Several recent messages have expressed concern for the effects of
overfishing, cyanide and blast fishing on coral reefs.  I would like to make
a few points about progress combating these in the central Philippines that
might be helpful to some readers.  In the province of Negros Oriental, blast
fishing has been stopped, cyanide fishing in non-existent, and about 19
preserves are in place and working.  This began with a Silliman University
team over 20 years ago which included Angel Alcala, Lawton Alcala, and Alan
White, and has continued with research by Gary Russ, and by CEMRINO- a
support group funded by the European Union, and continuing work by Lawton
Alcala and the Research Management Division of the provincial government.
For many years, work centered on Sumilon Island, which had successes and
failures, and Apo Island- a continuing success.
      Marine reserves are well-known for allowing the recovery of fish
stocks within the reserve, which can lead to 1. some fish wandering outside
the preserve and getting caught, thus increasing total fish catches.  2.
Increased maximum fish size leading to greatly increased egg & larvae
production to re-seed other overfished areas by dispersal.  3.  Increased
fish size and density necessary for dive tourism.  Bohnsack (1994) has
argued eloquently for point 2.  But I would like to propose that point 1 is
actually the most critical in the short term.  This is because developing
countries like the Philippines have little or no capacity for enforcement of
indeed, it's only effective defenders.  This is the key that makes preserves
work- if the fishermen don't want it or don't care, the preserve will fail,
if they do want it, it has a good chance, especially if they are supported.
This makes community-based preserves an imperative.  The national government
can declare preserves and parks, that will remain "paper parks" and may even
hasten overuse.  In Negros Oriental, many years of working with the
fishermen, teaching, involving them in decisions, etc. have paid off.  The
sanctuary at Apo took several years to become firmly defended by the
fishermen, but now it is secure, and fish catches are up and dive tourism is
growing.  Fishermen may take some convincing, but once they find their
catches improving they become strong defenders of the preserve.  One of our
new preserves is swarming with fish after only 2 years!  These preserves
are, in effect, natural fish farms.  And the word spreads.  Setting up
preserves in this province is now much easier than it used to be- 19 are now
in place, all but a couple started in the last few years.  We have been kept
busy just surveying the places fishermen are suggesting for reserves- it's a
popular concept here with fishermen- "the other village has one, how come we
can't have one?"  Our provincial government is committed to devoting scarce
resources to continuing the work.  And now, a variety of other groups in
other provinces are starting to do the same thing.  This is an idea whose
time has come- it's catching on like a spark in dry grass, because everybody
benefits- fisherman, conservationist, and diver.
     A critical factor seems to be that the community that fishes a reef
lives within easy sight of the reef.  Offshore reefs are much harder to
patrol and defend- Sumilon had no resident fishing community, while Apo
does, which is a major reason for the difference in outcome.  Probably the
best reef in the country is Tubbataha, which is so remote it is very hard to
defend- see Alan White's book.  During the education of resident fishing
communities, the destructive nature of cyanide, blast, and compressor
fishing can be emphasized, so that fishing outside the preserve can allow
some recovery.  Fishing villages here will drive off destructive fishers
from elsewhere or even confiscate gear.
     In the future, dive tourism could bring in much more income than
fishing from the same reefs.  I point to Cozumel, Mexico, where a coral reef
preserve about 15 miles long hosts about 50 dive boats a day and 2000 dives.
This supports 50 dive shops, the owners and employees of the boats, hotels,
restaurants, curio shops, airlines, and all their suppliers.  A town of
80,000 people lives mostly off diving, and Cozumel ranks along with
Alcapulco and Cancun among Mexico's biggest foreign-exchange earners.  Some
(but not all) dive operators and divers are worried about the effect of
diving on the reef, yet the relatively mild effects of hurricane Gilbert
(Fenner, 1991) far overshadowed the effects of divers, and the reefs are
recovering from the hurricane in spite of  2000 dives/day continuing 365
days a year.  Divers do some damage, but there is a growing concern among
divers to protect reefs, and frankly, we may not have any other viable
options (Gary Russ, 1996 argues we have no alternative to preserves).  We
can't turn the clock back to when only 1 or 2 billion people were crowded on
this earth, and fish were abundant.  Tourism can be badly mismanaged so that
the wealthy come to sun on a beach in an all-inclusive resort guarded by
barbed wire to keep the poor out, and almost all the money goes to wealthy
owners in developed countries.  Dive tourism doesn't have to be that way,
and dive shops, hotels, and restaurants can be locally-owned, generate lots
of jobs, and generate good will, as in Cozumel.
     The preserve idea is catching on just in time, because the general
impression that many sites have been destroyed is quite right.  And it may
get worse.  President Ramos on Dec 9 stated in a speech that the present
human population of the Philippines is growing at 2.32% a year, and food
production is growing at 1% a year.  Better dissemination of new varieties
of rice and corn would speed food production, but unless the human
population growth is greatly reduced, all our efforts are going to be
temporary victories- we will win the battle but loose the war.  Solving the
population problem will not solve other problems, but other problems cannot
be solved (more than temporarily) without solving the population problem,
and that includes fisheries and coral reef protection.  Improving education,
women's status, and income all help population efforts.     -Douglas Fenner

Arquiza, Y. and A. White.  1994.  Tales from Tubbataha.  Bandillo ng Palawan
Foundation, Inc., Puerto Princessa, Palawan  136 pp.
Bohnsack, J. A. 1994.  Marine reserves: they enhance fisheries, reduce
conflicts, and protect resources.  NAGA, the ICLARM Quarterly 17(3) 4-7.
Also in Oceanus 1993, 36(3)
Fenner, D. P.  1991.  Effects of Hurricane Gilbert on Coral reefs, fishes
and sponges at Cozumel, Mexico.  Bulletin of Marine Science 48: 719-730.
Russ, G. R.  1996.  Fisheries management: what chance on coral reefs?  NAGA
19(3): 5-9.
Russ, G. R. & A. C. Alcala.  1994.  Sumilon Island reserve: 20 years of
hopes and frustrations.  NAGA 17(3) 8-12.
Centre for the Establishment of Marine Reserves in Negros Oriental
P.O. Box 187
Dumaguete City 6200
Negros Oriental
Tel./Fax:  (+63 35) 225 5563

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