Benham Rise seen as potential fisheries hotspot

The Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) is eyeing the Benham Rise as a potential fisheries hotspot in the country’s eastern seaboard facing the Pacific Ocean off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela.

Fishing-vessel

In April 2009 the Philippines filed a full territorial waters claim with the United Nations. The petition, once approved will give the country full ownership of the area as part of our extended continental shelf. Three years later, in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Benham Rise is the Philippines’ newest territory.

“The actual evidence of ownership is utilization and full control of the Benham Rise,” said DA Undersecretary for Fisheries and BFAR Director Asis Perez regarding the 13 million hectare undersea region east of Luzon.

In 2012, DA-BFAR deployed an exploratory team whose mission is for research and to implement utilization and full control.

Exploratory mission

Since Benham Rise is located several hundred nautical miles off eastern coast of Luzon, the area promises of high potential for fishing activities.

“The exploratory mission also identified the vast and diverse marine resources in Benham Rise,” the undersecretary said.

“Ang lugar ay hindi masyadong napupuntahan ng ating mga mangingisda, subalit ang lugar na ito ay tradisyunal na pinangingisdaan ng mga mangingisdang Pilipino,” he added.

BFAR has recently monitored the operation of two to three medium sized fishing vessels in the area while performing the agency’s mandate to explore and identify marine and fisheries resources available in Benham Rise.

From 2013 to 2014, the bureau undertook oceanographic studies in the vicinity of Benham Rise alongside implementation of the National Payao Program and fisheries assessment.

Under the program, payao units were deployed in strategic areas in the region to provide fishers with marked fishing spots and avoid fuel wastage in search for good catch.

Community Fish Landing Centers

Community Fish Landing Centers are also being established on coastal communities in provinces nearest Benham Rise.

Usec. Perez said the region plays a big role in fisheries because the shallowest area has shown primary productivity. BFAR implemented hand line fishing activity and identified the presence of tuna and tuna like species, yellow fin and big eye tuna.

The bureau uses its pelagic long line vessel in its exploratory mission and discovered that the major species caught in Benham Rise are tuna, opa (pink fish), albacore (white meat tuna), and big eye tuna.

Benham Rise is ideal for implementing long line fishing, a method which uses multiple hooks and is not widely practiced yet in the country. Compared to other fishing grounds, fishes caught in Benham Rise are bigger.

“Conservation is important as well as utilization. Tuna species is a highly migratory species. Conserving the area will not assure that the tuna will stay in Benham Rise all the time.”

A balance has to be made between utilization and conservation. There has to be utilization of the resource in a proper way, Usec. Perez said.

—From the Department of Agriculture