Please zoom in or out and select the base layer according to your preference to make the map ready for printing, then press the Print button above.

Illegal fishing in Bicol, Philippines


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 [6]. 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) [11]. An average of 10,000 dynamite blasts are estimated to occur every day [5]. 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 [5]. 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 [14]. 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 [7]. 

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 [13].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Illegal fishing in Bicol, Philippines
State or province:Bicol
Location of conflict:Sagñay
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Fish

Project Details and Actors

Project details

To prepare dynamite, illegal fishers mix kerosene with white ammonium nitrate beads, a fertilizer that has been illegal in the Philippines since 2002, but is easily purchased in sacks from smugglers. They make detonators, the glass bottles with the explosives. The fuses give approximately four seconds to throw the bomb before it explodes, though many men can be blinded, deafened, permanently disfigured, or killed from poorly made dynamite. However, dynamite fishing can help the poachers catch anywhere between 10 to 20kg of fish compared to legal net fishers who catch less than 2kg on a good day. Illegal fish poaching is often the best and fastest source of income in the region [14].

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:30/05/1970
Relevant government actors:Philippine National Police (PNP)
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sagñay Tuna Fishers Association (STFA), WWF Philippines, Save Philippine Seas, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, Oceana Philippines, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Bicol Consortium for Development Initiatives Inc., Greenpeace Philippines, Tambuyog Development Center Inc., Pangisda Pilipinas, PKSK (National Union of Rural Based Organizations, and RARE Philippines

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Violations of human rights
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Gerlie Menchie Alpajora was shot dead on July 29, 2015.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Although those working against illegal fishing practices continue to face many violent threats for their activism, collaboration with police and international ENGOs inspired by the death of Gerlie Alpajora has led to a remarkable success arresting 300% more fish criminals than before. The movement is also working to make new and improved laws punishing commercial fishing vessels' illegal activities now that there was already a legal success taking away the license of one of them in 2020. Some movements outside of Bicol are also working to declare more fishing grounds as fish sanctuaries.

Sources & Materials

[3] ABS-CBN News. Group condemns killing of fisheries advocate in CamSur (2015)

[4] The Manila Times. Anti-illegal fishing advocate killed (2015)

[5] Opinyon. Pinoy fishers catching smaller fishes, earning less (2015)

[9] Philippines Information Agency. Satellite imaging helps monitor illegal fishing in Bicol (Balala 2019)

[13] Phillipine News Agency. Vessel license revocation curbs illegal fishing (2020)

Meta information

Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update17/02/2020
Conflict ID:4952



Dynamite fish bomb

Photo: Dive Gallery

Blast fishing Philippines

Photo: All about fishing