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Fish for the future. An assessment of fishery conservation policies in the Philipines – for extensionists

Maria Rebecca Campos

Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA)
Los Banos, Laguna, 4031, Philippines. Email:


Research on an important fishing area in the Philippines has found that current policy and regulations to deal with over-fishing are neither cost-effective nor effective in addressing the underlying problems of over-exploitation of fish stocks and open access to fishing areas. Declining fish stocks is a major environmental problem all around the world – one that is jeopardizing the livelihoods of many coastal communities. For extensionists dealing with this problem, the most pressing challenge is to advocate and implement regulations that balance the needs of conservation with those of the fishing communities. The report suggests that a tradable quota system may provide an answer to the problem and suggests that extensionists are needed to back up such an approach.

Three key learnings: (1) For extensionists dealing with this problem, the most pressing challenge is to advocate and implement regulations that balance the needs of conservation with those of the fishing communities. (2) The report suggests that a tradable quota system may provide an answer to the problem and suggests extensionists back up such an approach. (3) An integrated coastal management plan should involve extensionists in developing alternative sources of income that will reduce fishing pressure on the bay, making both fishing and the wider local economy sustainable.


Regulation, policy, over-fishing


Throughout the Philippines fish stocks are threatened by over-fishing and habitat destruction and fish catch has declined since the early 1990s. This study looked at Lamon Bay, 160 km south of Manila, which one of the top ten fishing grounds in the Philippines. Its fish catch has been declining by 13.5% annually - more than twice the national average of 5.4%. This fact, linked with the high exploitation rates and small length of fish caught in the bay, has raised the concern that fishing in Lamon Bay has exceeded its sustainable limits. The situation in Lamon Bay is part of a countrywide trend.

In light of this, several fishery management and conservation policies have been implemented in the Bay. However, no study had been conducted to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of these policies so that extensionists may know how to deal with the problem. To fill in this information gap – and to investigate what else might need to be done – the research looked in detail at three municipalities: Infanta, Real and Polillo.

The objective of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of existing fishery conservation policies to enlighten extensionists and policy makers on the matter. The specific objectives were to determine for alternative policies: (1) the changes in the benefits and costs of municipal fishermen, and (2) the changes in the fish catch.


Two main fishery policy scenarios were considered: (1) banning the use of electric shiners; and (2) regulating the use of fish cages. These policies exist under the New Fisheries Code of 1998. Also covered was the resolution on the seasonal closure for gathering milkfish fry.

Figure 1 shows the different stages in the methodology:

Figure 1. Methodological framework; Assessment of fisheries conservation policies, Philippines.

Survey of fishermen

A survey of 450 sample municipal fisherfolk in Infanta, Real and Polillo was conducted. From the list of fishers in each municipality, 150 respondents were chosen randomly, although some key-informants were also included based on their knowledge of the area.

The survey was administered using a structured questionnaire. From the survey instrument, information on the cost of operation and income of the fisherfolks for the year 2000 was generated. Other data gathered included socio-demographic profile, perceptions (of management issues) and level of fish catch. Results of the survey were used in the benefit-cost analysis of the implementation of selected fisheries policies in Lamon Bay, particularly on the computation of economic efficiency indicators of non-implementation of fisheries policies during the said years.

Because errors were found in the list of fisherfolk in the three municipalities, a validation of respondents with village officials and/or people’s organization (PO) leaders was made prior to the survey in the sample barangays. This procedure was undertaken to ensure that the respondents were residents of their respective village. With the validation, some respondents had to be replaced since they had migrated to another area; a few have died; while others were unknown or not residents of the particular village.

Gathering of secondary data

To complement the survey data, information from secondary sources was also taken. This included the list of municipal fisherfolk taken from the respective Offices of the Municipal Agriculturist (OMA) of the three towns covered. Additional information was gathered in two barangays (i.e., Sibulan, Polillo and Ungos, Real) and the Infanta Integrated Community Development Assistance Incorporated (ICDAI), and was used primarily for the sampling of respondents.

Data were also gathered on current fisheries policies, which include a ban on electric shiners over a certain wattage and the regulation of fish cages. These policies are in place because electric shiners, used to attract fish at night, attract fry that have not yet grown to harvestable size, while fish cages can destroy the breeding grounds of milkfish.

(a) Interviews with key informants/ and institutions

Local leaders, extensionists and stakeholders were interviewed to gain their views on the effectiveness and efficiency of various fishery policies. The researcher also analyzed the local institutions involved in fisheries policies.

Economic analysis

Benefit cost analysis of the implementation of the different fisheries policies from the point of view of municipal fisherfolk was carried out. The results of the survey of fisherfolk, and key informant interviews were used in the computation of economic efficiency indicators. These indicators were used in comparing alternative instruments, in this case, with and without seasonal policies. These indicators included Internal Rate of Return (IRR), Net Present Value (NPV), and Benefit Cost Ratio.

Comparison of ranking among measures of economic efficiency was done after computing the above. The results of the economic efficiency analysis were tabulated and comparisons made among different fisheries conservation policies: with and without regulation, shiner ban, fish cage ban, and combination of shiner and fish cage ban (Table 1). Various other analyses were also conducted, and are reported under results below, e.g a study of whether regulation made economic sense.

Sensitivity analysis

A sensitivity analysis was done using the results of the Benefit Cost Analysis, and assuming different fish prices, volumes of fish catch and inflation rates, and other possible changes.

3. Results and discussion

Fishing in general

In the initial part of the study on the scope of fishing in Lamon Bay (see Figure 1), it was found that three methods were used: hook and line, multiple hooks, and gill nets. The researcher gathered information on the economics of fishing operations in 2000 and 2001.

The study of policies found that a two-year moratorium on the harvesting of milkfish fry is being called for in some areas. This is because milkfish fry gatherers also catch the fry of other fish species and throw them away to die. Other policies included the establishments of sanctuaries and the implementation of permits and licenses.

Effectiveness of policies

Although awareness varied greatly, most fisherfolk respondents as well as key informants felt that the existing policies were slightly effective. Exceptions were those relating to sanctuaries, permits and licenses were perceived as ineffective. This last finding was backed up by the fact that 84% of respondents were themselves operating without fishing licenses. However, after assessing the productivity data (Table 1), the study concluded that the perception that some conservation policies were effective was not borne out by data. Instead, the researcher found general declining productivity – indicative of declining resource quality in the bay and so, policy failure.

Table 1. Projected fish catch from Lamon Bay (in metric tons), with and without regulation, and with high and low enforcement








No regulation






With regulation


Shiner ban














Fish Cage ban














Both shiner/fish cage ban














Source: Benefit Cost Analysis results from this study.

In light of these results, the researcher set out to find out why policies were failing. The data showed that many policies were not supported by the fishing communities of Lamon Bay because people could not appreciate their relevance to the problems of everyday life. It was found out that they were constrained by lack of funds, political will and technical know-how. This is turn led to poor policing and enforcement. The significance of poor policy implementation was backed up by further analysis, which showed that the laws banning electric shiners and regulating milkfish gatherers would have some effect if the regulations were fully enforced.

Costing fish conservation

The study then looked at whether regulation made economic sense. The researcher investigated two scenarios: a “business as usual” situation in which the current annual expenditure (PhP 30,000; USD 560) for the implementation and monitoring of the policies was maintained; and a second scenario in which enough money was spent to fully implement fishery conservation policies. It was found that a substantial investment (PhP 614,000 per year; USD 11,500) would be required to ensure compliance. However, it was estimated that the benefits of achieving high levels of compliance would exceed costs by only a small margin.

The analysis also showed that full policy implementation would not necessarily conserve fish stocks. Instead, it would create a situation in which increasing numbers of people would continue to fish. These people would be forced to spend larger amounts of effort and money to comply with various fishing restrictions. However, they would, in all likelihood, harvest no fewer fish.

According to the research, the underlying problems in Lamon Bay are open access and overfishing. Indeed, the analysis showed that a 100% increase in the level of fishing effort would not increase yield but instead produce a decline in fish catch. This shows that the fish stock is already overexploited, a situation exacerbated by the fact that fishermen from outside the region can come in and fish the bay with little or no hindrance.


Given the failure of current policies and the economic inefficiency of full regulatory implementation, the study recommends that economists work with extensionists to advocate to policy makers a potentially more effective policy – one that deals with the key problems of open access and over-fishing. This is to set a limit on the total number of fish that can be caught and divide this quota among Lamon Bay’s fishermen. Although the imposition of a Total Allowable Catch is stipulated in the new Fisheries Code, no effort has yet been made to implement this in the region.

To make implementation of this policy easier, the researcher suggests that initial reductions could be made by revoking the permits of fishermen who contravene fishing regulations, e.g. regarding permissible catch size or seasons. To allow flexibility, the allocated quotas might be tradable. Among other things, this would allow new fishermen to enter the industry – but only by buying a quota from an existing quota holder. Such a system of individual tradable quotas or permits has been very successful in Australia.

At the same time, the study points out that many fishermen will have to find other means of employment and should be given help to do this. It is recommended that a tradable quota system should be complemented by alternative livelihood projects with the aid of extensionists to wean fishermen and their families off fishing. Most fishermen in Lamon Bay are poor and have no other sources of income. Their household members are usually unemployed but employable. In light of this, the study concludes that an integrated coastal management plan is imperative. Such a plan should seek extensionists to develop alternative sources of income that will reduce fishing pressure on the bay, making both fishing and the wider local economy sustainable.


Department of Agriculture. (1990). Fisheries Administrative Order No. 172 (Series of 1990). Establishing a five-year closed season on the operation of commercial fishing boats and the employment of hulbot-hulbot by both commercial and municipal fishing boats in Polillo Strait and a portion of Lamon Bay, Quezon province.

Binangonan del Ampon (1999). Ecological Profile Infanta, Quezon. Technical Working Group, Infanta Integrated Community Development Assistance, Inc., Philippine Partnership for Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas and Development Catalyst, Inc. Manilla.

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