At USAID Learning Event in the Philippines, Communities and Partners Celebrate Journey Toward Sustainable Fisheries

The USAID Fish Right Program promotes sustainable and resilient fisheries in the Philippines. The program builds on long-standing efforts by local communities and national, regional, and local governments to conserve biodiversity across the country, including in the Calamian Islands (also called the Calamianes).

For nearly two decades, local government officials, private sector partners, Indigenous Peoples, and other community members in the Calamianes have come together to radically change policies, behaviors, and mindsets related to sustainable fisheries management.

In July 2023, Fish Right hosted a learning event to acknowledge the Calamian Islands' success over the past 20 years and share lessons learned from its integrated approach to marine conservation. "Pagsarayen: Celebrating the Calamianes' Journey Towards Sustainable Fisheries" brought together municipal mayors and officials from Fisheries Management Area (FMA) 5 in the West Philippine Seascape to celebrate the policy and behavior changes resulting from Fish Right's collaboration with local communities. Pagsarayen, which means "journey" in the language of the Tagbanua Calamian Indigenous Peoples, aptly describes the island community's transformation to partners of sustainable fishing.

A group plants mangroves

Pagsarayen participants plant mangroves. | Credit: USAID/Philippines Fish Right Program

During the celebration, local government officials and fisheries managers visited the following Fish Right-supported sites to hear about these changes from community members themselves. The hosts shared real-life stories of how working with local government officials and the private sector, and empowering Indigenous women and youth, resulted in sustainable and resilient fisheries management that is inclusive, dynamic, and based on evidence and learning.

  •  Siete Pecados Marine Park was once a hotspot for harmful dynamite fishing until the community living there set out to reverse this trend. With USAID support, they strengthened their management capacity and engaged other stakeholders, such as tour operators, in managing the protected area and advocating for its establishment as a marine park. Now, Siete Pecados is a thriving ecotourism destination, and Fish Right is providing technical assistance to support the community-driven decision to expand the size of the marine park so it can benefit more people–evidence of the impact of the community's initial work with USAID to change the way tour operators and others think about sustainable fishing and its benefits.
  • In Busuanga, Fish Right partnered with the private sector to create economic opportunities for conservation enterprises that support responsible seafood sourcing and sustainable fisheries management. The private sector partners transferred knowledge and skills to the enterprises to help them improve their product quality and build relationships with the local tourism industry, such as hotels, as potential customers. At the same time, Fish Right supported the local government to strengthen community livelihoods through improved post-harvest capacities, increased access to infrastructure, and market linkages. By building the capacities of fishers, including women, to sustainably source seafood and manage fisheries, Fish Right, the local government, and the private sector helped fisherfolk benefit from fair trading practices and reap better prices from their catch while also changing behaviors around where companies source their seafood.
  • Fish Right helped establish the Balisungan Women-Managed Area in Coron, where a group of women has successfully reforested 64.8 hectares of mangroves and established a mangrove nursery that now supplies the other municipalities’ mangrove reforestation efforts. This initiative also ensures a sustainable source of food and livelihoods for future generations by fighting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. After USAID trained the women on natural resource management, entrepreneurship, and environmental protection, the women became staunch defenders of the mangroves, deterring illegal fishers from venturing into the area’s waters and illegal loggers from cutting the mangrove trees. The Balisungan Women-Managed Area is just one of 11 women-managed areas established by Fish Right, which includes the Indigenous Calawit Women-Managed Area in Busuanga that helped conserve the traditional food resource cachipay, or windowpane oyster, and advanced Indigenous women’s roles in marine conservation.

Several women smiling at a fish processing facility.

Community members work at Bogtong fish processing facility, a responsible seafood sourcing company. | Credit: USAID/Philippines Fish Right Program

After the site visits, Emmanuel Asis, Mimaropa Regional Director and FMA 5 Chair from the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said, “We were able to experience hands-on the success of what we can do together in conserving, protecting, and empowering our communities. This is the reason why we are here. Our intention is to have this replicated in the whole FMA 5,  [an area established in the West Philippine Seascape for the shared conservation and sustainable management of fishery resources], scaling the way the Calamianes Islands conserve, protect, and empower people in fisheries with the support of USAID Fish Right.”

The Pagsarayen event closed with the Enhanced Ecosystem Awards, which recognizes good governance in the management of marine protected areas in the Calamianes. After nearly two decades of working together to manage fisheries, protect habitats, and enhance the human well-being of Filipinos, USAID, the Government of the Philippines, and the communities living in the Calamian Islands had a lot to learn from and celebrate.