In the last week of June 2017, 11 resource management delegates from the Philippines met with representatives from NOAA to share ideas and experiences on fisheries science, management, and enforcement. The weeklong event will lead to new partnerships and strengthened collaborations between the United States and the Philippines, and will help expand and improve international marine resource management.
Throughout the week, expert scientists, managers, policymakers, and law enforcement officials discussed a wide range of fisheries-related topics, including the respective countries' fisheries management approaches, marine protected areas, environmental modeling techniques, protected species conservation, and enforcement of resource conservation laws.
"We have a lot of similarities and we have a lot of differences," says Eduardo Gongona, undersecretary for fisheries and director of the Philippines' Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. "I would like to find the in-betweens."
The peer exchange event resulted from a unique partnership between NOAA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), wherein the agencies seek to strengthen the science and stewardship of Asia-Pacific’s oceans, coasts, and climate. Through the partnership, NOAA works to build capacity and good governance in countries and regions of Asia and the Pacific Islands — including the Philippines — to better people's lives, economies, and the environment.
To that end, Regional Administrator Michael Tosatto of the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Island Regional Office, Director Michael Seki of NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Assistant Director Bill Pickering of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hosted the Philippine delegates. These guests notably included Gongona, Director Mundita Lim of the Philippines Department of Environment's Biodiversity Management Bureau, and Rebecca Guieb, who manages the USAID marine program portfolio in the Philippines.
Aside from engaging in lively discussions held at the NOAA Inouye Regional Center, the delegates also toured the Honolulu Fish Auction at Pier 38. Here, they learned about the day-to-day operations of Hawai‘i's longline fleet, spoke with Filipino fishermen at port, and witnessed the excitement of the fish auction firsthand.
Guieb was impressed with the organization and streamlined process of the fish auction. "It's highly mechanized," she says. Lim adds, "The open auction is new to us, and that is something that we can consider."
On the final day of the peer exchange program, Gongona and Lim held a surprised signing of the "Declaration of Commitment and Action Plan for the Management of Shared Resources." The first of its kind, the declaration signals an increased effort between the Philippines' two agencies to improve their collaboration in managing and protecting their shared marine resources and ecosystems.
By the end of the week, experts from both the Philippines and the United States learned much about fisheries science, management, and enforcement — lessons they'll no doubt apply towards their own work.
Remia Aparri, regional director of the Philippines' Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Region VI, was particularly interested in the discussions on the National Stock Assessment Program (NSAP). "As a RD, I learned a lot of insights that I can use in my operations, especially in the use and application of the NSAP," she says. "The data is very useful, but it has not been maximized to support policy both for the local and national [levels]."
On the other hand, Rey Juan, regional director of the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, was struck by the importance of science in decision-making. "Most of the time most decisions are political," he says. "There is a need for science-based decision-making."
"I learned much and my staff learned a lot," comments Tosatto. "It is striking how we deal with common problems coming from different ground rules. And how we commonly solve them."
Seki agrees. "I appreciated all the similarities of what we do and what they do, and at the same time the differences," Seki says. "The sense of food security and conservation is pretty much ubiquitous, and it is up to the scientists and managers to ensure that the resources will be there until tomorrow."