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Philippines FISH Project

Case Authors

Dave Gershman, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


The Philippines FISH Project is a USAID-financed technical assistance project that aims to use sustainable practices to increase the harvest of fish in the Philippines. FISH stands for Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest.

Residents of the Philippines depend on productive fisheries for food and income, but the fisheries are in severe decline. Enforcement of basic regulations is challenging and habitat-damaging fishing practices, such as the use of poisons or explosives continues to degrade the ecosystem. Protein deficiencies now exist among coastal fishing communities because of steep declines in the catch.

The FISH Project is a seven-year commitment by USAID to provide advice and assistance to local governments and stakeholders in four targeted areas to build capacity for effective management. The targeted areas are strategically important fisheries and key areas of biodiversity conservation.

The FISH Project takes a holistic view of the stressors on the ecosystem. For instance, population pressures are leading to overfishing and poor land-use practices that impact the coastal ecosystem. As part of its strategy, the FISH Project is supporting reproductive health programs.

The program is implemented in partnership with the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Philippines. The program has already met its chief objective of realizing a 10-percent increase in fish stocks in four targeted areas by 2010 and funding is set to expire in December 2010.

MEBM Attributes

  • Scale: Ecosystem-wide focus.
  • Collaboration: Inclusion of stakeholders and government decision-makers.
  • Adaptive Management: Use of monitoring to measure biological changes, increase understanding of the project area, and chart progress of the project.


Mission and Primary Objectives


The mission of the Philippines FISH Project is to use sustainable practices to increase the harvest of fish in the Philippines.


The primary objective is to increase fish stocks by 10 percent in the four targeted implementation areas by 2010. Supporting objectives include the following:

Capacity Increases for Fisheries Management

  • Register and license municipal fishers.
  • Train law enforcement units, prosecutors, and judiciary members in fisheries law enforcement.
  • Implement effort restrictions on fishing.
  • Establish or improve management of Marine Protected Areas to protect critical habitats, migration routes, and spawning areas.
  • Facilitate the adoption of coastal resource management by local government.
  • Facilitate the signing of agreements and plans supporting local ecosystem-based fisheries management policies.
  • Improve or implement reproductive health and/or population programs.

National Policy Framework Development

  • Provide assistance and advice in policy development.
  • Replicate fisheries management and government practices to other local government units outside of four target areas.

Constituent Development

  • Facilitate public-private partnerships supporting fisheries management, social infrastructure, population programs; socio-economic development.
  • Disseminate and utilize fisheries management information materials, and hold training forums.

Key Parties

Lead Organizations

  • USAID (United States Agency for International Development)
  • Department of Agriculture of the Philippines
  • Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Philippines

Key Parties

  • Fifteen municipalities of the four targeted implementation areas
  • Other national government agencies and non-governmental organizations
  • Stakeholders, including community members and fishers, in the coastal areas


Program Structure

The Philippines FISH Project is a USAID-sponsored initiative that is managed under contract by Tetra Tech EM Inc., which proposed the following structure:

  • Administrative: Tetra Tech EM planned to establish a project office in Manila and an office in each of the four targeted implementation areas. A chief of party for the project, based in Manila, would provide overall project management and leadership, including policy direction, technical guidance and project administration. At the local level, site managers and project specialists would implement management programs and coordinate with local partners and institutions.
  • Consultative Group: The project Consultative Group would be composed of representatives of USAID and Philippines national government agencies, including the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the National Economic Development Authority, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Interior and Local Governments. Also included would be commercial fishermen, local government leagues, non-governmental organizations, academics, members of the media, and others. Representatives to the Consultative Group would guide implementation of projects and be able to make commitments from their organizations to support the objective of the program.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

In the past, Philippines had open access fisheries policies, allowing its fisheries to be exploited by foreign vessels and overfished.

The FISH Project builds on a previous USAID-financed initiative, the nine-year Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP). CRMP provided technical assistance and training to help coastal communities, local government units, non-governmental organizations and national government agencies improve their management of coastal resources. CRMP ended in 2004.

The Philippines adopted coastal resource management as a basic, local government service. Some authority was decentralized, providing for the greater involvement of local government units and communities in resource management.

However, few coastal municipalities had the capacity to manage their natural resources because of deficiencies in their personnel, budgets, planning capacity and technical knowledge. Attempts to implement fisheries restrictions on effort and gear enjoyed limited success, partly because of a lack of law enforcement programs and community education programs.

Law enforcement is hampered by a weak judiciary. In the Calamianes Islands, for instance, a judge visits the area only three times a year, according to USAID. Few attempts to prosecute violations of fisheries regulations are successful, because few witnesses and complainants can attend hearings in another region.


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

Four targeted areas were selected for implementation of the FISH Project in the Philippines, which is home to the highest diversity of coral reefs in the world and once had highly productive fisheries. The areas - the Calamianes Islands, Tawi-Tawi, Danajon Bank and Surigao del Sur - include coral reefs, mangrove forests, sandy beaches, seagrass beds and protected bays and inlets which all provide diverse marine and coastal habitats. Danajon Bank includes the only double barrier reef in the Philippines.

The targeted areas are home to grouper, Bumphead wrasse, and tuna among other commercially-important species. Two threatened species of marine crocodiles have been found in the Calamianes. Five species of endangered sea turtles, including the Green Turtle, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Olive Ridley, have been found in Suriago de Sur.


Threats include long-standing overfishing and illegal fishing with many large vessels operating illegally in the offshore fisheries. Dynamite and poisons are used in fishing, particularly by low-income fishers. In the Calamianes area, use of dynamite has destroyed much of the reef.

Poor land-use practices are also negatively impacting the ecosystem, including sedimentation from deforested areas, conversion of mangrove forests to fish ponds and poor waste disposal practices.


Major Strategies


The strategies used by the Philippines FISH Project include:

  • Providing technical assistance, coaching, mentoring, and training workshops for government officials and stakeholders.
  • Continuing dialogue with concerned national governmental agencies to provide an avenue to review policies that would affect fisheries management.
  • Deepen stakeholder involvement and commitment to stewardship through education, and interaction with local government officials, and promote conservation strategies on a national level.

Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation


A monitoring program was established to collect baseline information on fisheries and related resources, and develop a better understanding of the resources and threats. Every two years, special monitoring undertakings will collect the biological information needed to assess impacts from the program.

Assessment and Evaluation

Annual reports produced by USAID measure the progress of the program against numerical goals for each of its objectives, including the primary objective and the supporting objectives, called intermediate objectives.


  • Resource Impacts: The 2008 special monitoring event showed the Philippines FISH Project had already achieved its primary objective of increasing fish stocks by 10 percent in the four targeted implementation areas. The monitoring showed fish stocks had increased 19 percent, compared to 2004 baseline levels.
  • Regulatory Measures: More municipal fishers had been licensed, effort restrictions had been implemented in the targeted areas, members of law enforcement and the judiciary had been trained in fisheries regulations, and the project had facilitated the establishment and management of 32 Marine Protected Areas, involving local stakeholders in their protection.



Website Links

Web site hosting primary information on the Philippines FISH Project:

USAID feature on the Philippines FISH Project:

USAID Web site: