For the nth time, Iloilo stepping up ‘Bantay Dagat’ ops vs illegal fishing

A Bantay Dagat patrol boat. (Capitol photo)

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

Illegal fishing remains a problem in Iloilo and for the nth time, the provincial government claimed it has made measures to address this never-ending issue, especially with the appointment of a new official tasked to oversee the operations of the Bantay Dagat Task Force.

Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. has recently issued an executive order authorizing Provincial Administrator Raul Banias to supervise the activities of the province’s Bantay Dagat Task Force.

Illegal fishing in Northern Iloilo has been a problem since the administration of the late governor Niel Tupas Sr. and remained unsolved in the administrations of governor Arthur Defensor Sr. and his son and namesake Arthur Jr.

Banias, in an interview last week, affirmed that illegal fishing, particularly the use of dynamite, persists in certain areas of the Visayan Sea.

He emphasized that the closure of the Visayan Sea for three months is expected to reveal more instances of illegal fishing.

“I already had a meeting with the Bantay Dagat Task Force and we will be responding to that. This is not new to us. Way back, We have already apprehended several illegal fishers engaged in dynamite fishing. We assure our marginalized fisherfolk that we will strictly monitor it,” he added.

The Visayan Sea was closed to fishing starting November 15 until February 15, 2023. The closure prohibits the catching, killing, selling, or possessing of various sardines, herrings, and mackerel species within the conservation area.

Banias said they will strictly monitor the area, citing that dynamite fishing activities are mostly coming from other provinces and other illegal fishing activities are made by local fisherfolk in the coastal areas of the province.

“I am constantly communicating with Provincial Agriculture Office (PAO) chief Dr. Ildefonso Toledo for the smooth, effective transition of the operation and management of the Bantay Dagat Task Force,” he said.

The provincial administrator said the transition period is “a very complex administrative function” considering that they have to organize the operation and maintenance aspects, as well as address staffing requirements.

“With the two additional floating assets of the province, we will step up our campaign against illegal fishing,” Banias added.

The province received its two new patrol boats in September this year. The patrol boat, which costs P3.5 million each is equipped with GPS, chart plotter combo with blue chart G2, VHF marine base radio with antenna, navigation lights, and comes with galvanized trailers.

While these assets are primarily stationed in the coastal waters of northern Iloilo due to the prevalence of illegal fishing in the area, Banias said these can be deployed to other coastal areas if urgently needed.

“The floating assets will also be deployed in other coastal areas of the province if there is an urgent need for it,” he added.

Aside from apprehending those who are engaged in illegal fishing, Banias emphasized the province’s commitment to strengthening education on the marine protected areas and fisheries aquatic resource management councils.

“Our campaign in the integrated fishery management approach is not only a campaign against illegal fishing but also conservation, restoration, and education,” he added.