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Notes from the field: The Fisheries Law Centre Global Fisheries Law Education Program

14 Aug 2014


Sabrina Spencer is a JD Candidate at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Law in Vancouver, Canada. Sabrina has a background in corporate sustainability and a graduate degree in environmental studies focusing on sustainable urban development. This past summer Sabrina spent two months in the Philippines with the Fisheries Law Centre ("FLC"), a not-for-profit research centre based in Vancouver.  A central mandate of the FLC is to build capacity by educating law students, lawyers, and other stakeholders in the area of fisheries law. In the Philippines Sabrina investigated the potential for FLC’s Global Fisheries Law Education Program ("GFLEP"). The GFLEP is a program intended to improve access to justice for small-scale fisherfolk by providing continuing legal education for the legal community with a focus on fisheries law. 


The Fisheries Law Centre Global Fisheries Law Education Program - 2 Education Programs in 1


In the Philippines fisheries are regulated by RA 8550 known as the Fisheries Code of the Philippines. While this law lays down the framework for the regulation of the nation's fisheries, including of small-scale fisheries, it also legislates that any activities within 15km of the shoreline are under the jurisdiction of municipalities. Fisheries within this 15km area (ie small-scale fisheries) are known as municipal fisheries. This form of regulation has significant impacts on the format for a potential GFLEP because the legal framework that regulates municipal fisheries can literally vary from municipality to municipality. However despite this potential for extreme variations across the country there are two themes that appear to be consistent around the country.




The reason for this is twofold: the interests of municipal fisherfolk are represented on municipal fisheries and aquatic resource management councils ("FARMCs') by local people's organizations and fisherfolk organizations often play an instrumental role in the enforcement of municipal fisheries ordinances. FARMCs are the government bodies that are generally responsible for drafting and amending a municipality's fisheries ordinance. Also in many cases the enforcement of a municipal fisheries ordinance is dependant on the capacity of local fisherfolk organizations to monitor the regulated waters.




Similar to the situation in many countries, local governments in the Philippines often have limited resources available to accomplish an ambitious slate of tasks. It appears that these limited resources are often the reason for municipalities failing to implement or enforce their fisheries ordinances. These limited resources also often mean that Municipal Agriculture Offices ("MAOs") rely on feedback from local fisherfolk in order to recognize issues. In turn, this reliance on feedback relies on the existence of a strong and organized fisherfolk organization.    


Another issue related to the limited resources of many MAOs is that these offices generally have limited resources available to identify optimal policy mechanisms to address issues impacting municipal fisherfolk. In some cases this may lead to municipalities implementing fisheries ordinances that were developed by other municipalities and that may be entirely unsuitable to the local situation or it may lead to municipalities failing to implement an ordinance at all.


While the Philippines context is obviously unique to the country, after exploring the country and its laws for a summer, I would venture to say that its fisheries laws are subject to challenges that are seen in many other countries – reliance on strong civil society organizations and lack of government resources. Legal education and increased public awareness have a role to play in addressing both. 



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