In the Bicol region, fish populations have been decimated owing to decades of overfishing and illegal fishing practices. Out of 24 fishing grounds, 13, or 54% of them, are overexploited from overfishing, threatening the livelihoods of the local communities and the marine ecosystem . Consequently, fishermen violate regulations more than ever, catching increasingly smaller fish, restricted species, going to prohibited zones, and using ecologically destructive, illegal methods [5, 7]. Examples include using nets poisoned with cyanide or pesticides and dynamite blasting, which violate Section 92 of Republic Act 10654 (banning fishing with explosives, poisons, or electricity) . An average of 10,000 dynamite blasts are estimated to occur every day . Large trawling boats also illegally poach fish at night in areas reserved only for small municipal fishing boats, which leaves little left for marginalized legal village fishers [7, 8]. Whereas these small-scale fishermen using traditional methods used to be able to easily catch more than 10kg of fish per day in the 1950s, they now find at most 5kg per day, many days much less . In some dynamited areas, there are no fish at all. Even if officials know who the illegal fish poachers are, they cannot be charged unless caught in the act, a tough task for the fishing village police forces which have very few boats that are also too slow . Widespread corruption and indifferent local politicians are also major factors enabling the fishing crisis. Mayors often receive millions in bribes to turn a blind eye to commercial fishing vessels to illegally operate in coastal waters .
The Sagñay Tuna Fishers Association (STFA), has been actively assisting law enforcers in monitoring and reporting illegal fishing activities despite violent hostility towards those who fight against fish poaching in the region [2, 4]. Many association members receive regular death threats. STFA’s secretary, Gerlie Menchie Alpajora, 33 years old, received such threats for a week for her outspoken advocacy, information campaigns, as well as for bravely and tenaciously reporting dynamite fishers and other illegal fishing activities before she was shot dead on July 29, 2015 while sleeping beside her two young sons at her house [1, 4, 2, 3]. She was killed just after her reports led to the arrest of several illegal fishers. Death threats against other members of the STFA continued after her assassination [3, 12]. Although a case was filed against a possible suspect, police inaction after apprehending the suspect and significant court delays mean that environmental organizations continue to fight for justice resolving her case even today [1, 12, 15].
After her death, locals in collaboration with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and international ENGOs mobilized a very intense, quite successful campaign against destructive fishing methods. Whereas only 627 illegal fish poachers were arrested in 2013, soon after Alpajora’s murder, police and campaigners arrested at least 2,698 illegal fishing suspects and confiscated 64 commercial fishing vessels poaching in restricted areas. 2,027 of those suspects went to jail. 211 cases were filed in court against large-scale commercial fishing companies for violating fishing laws [10, 12]. Moreover, thanks to continued activist pressure, on January 7, 2020, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) terminated the license of a commercial fishing vessel that repeatedly violated fishing laws for the first time in Philippines history. This success is expected to lead to a massive legislative crackdown on further illegal fishing activities in the near future .