The United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) called for prompt and sustainable actions to help rebuild the livelihoods of those in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in the regions affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines.
According to preliminary assessments by the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture, small-scale fishers were the worst-affected by the calamity, While larger commercial boats suffered less damage, several small boats and fishing gear were either destroyed or damaged. About 16,500 seaweed farmers – mostly women – lost their livelihoods.
The typhoon flattened crucial infrastructure, including jetties, landing ports, on-shore ice and cold storage facilities, boat repair and maintenance facilities, processing factories and markets. Key aquaculture infrastructure, including oyster rafts, crab, shrimp and mussel farms, as well as inland tilapia cages, hatcheries and fish ponds, was also destroyed.
“Although we still only have a partial picture, it is clear that the damage caused to the fisheries sector is immense and spans the entire value chain, from catch to market,” said Rodrigue Vinet, acting FAO representative in the Philippines, adding that in the context of livelihoods, these losses were crippling.
Economic losses to the sector are still being quantified, but the worst-hit regions – Eastern, Central and Western Visayas and Mimaropa – are major producers in both aquaculture and fisheries, according to the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
In 2011, marine and inland fisheries in these affected regions supplied 5,14,492 tonne (or 21 per cent of the total output from the Philippines’ municipal and commercial fisheries combined). Municipal marine fishing is carried out from the shoreline to 15km offshore, and only boats below three tonne are authorised to fish in these waters.
Aquaculture, including seaweed, from the four regions is responsible for 33 per cent of the total national aquaculture production.
FAO cautioned that coordination was crucial in rebuilding the sector so as not to jeopardise the lives and livelihoods of fishers and fish farmers, as well as people directly and indirectly dependent on the fishing sector.
“The Philippines’ government has made important efforts to support small-scale fisheries, and we need to ensure that the response to this disaster does not reverse that good work,” Vinet said.
“The experience from 2004’s Indian Ocean tsunami and other large-scale disasters has shown that the inadvertent over-supply of fishing boats and equipment during the recovery could deplete fish stocks, reduce catches, harm eco-systems, and damage the livelihoods of the remaining fishers,” he said.
“Boats need to be rebuilt and replaced, but this needs to be done in a coordinated manner to ensure that the existing fishing capacity is not exceeded. We need to make sure that in time, there are no more boats than fish,” Vinet added.
He underscored that replacement fishing gear should be legal and non-destructive, and that boats should be built and repaired with quality materials, taking no short-cuts, and added that the safety of fishers was the top priority.
Plan for recovery
FAO is currently working with the Philippines’ government to prepare a recovery and reconstruction plan, which includes short- and medium- to long-term recovery for all agriculture sub-sectors, including fisheries.
The organisation is calling for an initial $5 million to restore the livelihoods of fishers and coastal communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
In addition to repairing boats and selective fishing gear, short-term rehabilitation efforts must include providing processing tools for women, demarcating community-managed fish sanctuaries and promoting cash-for-work programmes to assist in the clean-up efforts.
The rehabilitation of lost mangroves would also be important as they act as buffer zones against storm surges and as a refuge and habitat for spawning of many species.
In addition, FAO plans to support the recovery of seaweed farmers, usually women, whose work can bring returns within 60 days, ensuring access to vital income following the typhoon.
The organisation stressed that any fishery and aquaculture response effort in the Philippines must follow sustainable and good management practices, and that coastal management and zoning must also be respected.