Municipality leaders have joined forces to manage and preserve the resources of Iligan Bay in southern Philippines, securing food, nutrition and livelihoods for fishers.

Iligan Bay is a key fishing area in southern Philippines, home to more than 500,000 people who mostly depend on the bay’s coastal resources for their food security and livelihoods.

Despite their social and economic importance, fisheries in the bay are beset by problems, including overfished stocks, depletion of coastal resources and degraded fisheries, which increase the pressures faced by fishers. These problems, combined with inadequate management policies and weak enforcement, challenge fishers as they seek to maintain their livelihoods.

“Several municipalities share, use and benefit from the resources of the Iligan Bay. But local government units are detached from one another,” explains Mayor Estela Obut-Estaño, a government leader from Misamis Occidental, one of the four provinces surrounding the bay.  

“We govern our own small area as part of the bay, but the management and preservation of the whole bay needs strong collaboration among municipalities. And our question was, who will take the lead?” she asks.

“It served as the catalyst and the pillar of co-management among the local governments. It was indeed a big help and a blessing to all of us. This is what we have been waiting for.” – Mayor Estela Obut-Estaño, government leader from Misamis Occidental

Managing the bay’s resources to reinforce the livelihoods of those who depend on it is essential for securing food, nutrition and income. 

Now, an alliance has been formed to protect some of the bay’s resources around Misamis Occidental. The Iligan Bay Alliance of Misamis Occidental (IBAMO) was formed in 2012 by eight local governments in the province in partnership with WorldFish. IBAMO is a multistakeholder body with representatives from municipal, provincial and national governments and agencies that focuses on supporting sustainable coastal resource development in the bay.

“Local government units around the bay had each implemented different initiatives, but IBAMO provides the solution to the need for strong leadership,” says Mayor Estaño. Member governments are committed to IBAMO initiatives, and have contributed a total of PHP 1,100,000 (USD 23,463) to sustain its operations and activities. An additional PHP 200,000 (USD 4266) from two municipal government offices will be awarded to IBAMO before the year ends.

IBAMO builds on the work of two previous projects in the region. From 2010 to 2012, WorldFish worked with local and regional partners to address key issues affecting biodiversity conservation. From Ridge to Reef: An Ecosystem-Based Approach to Biodiversity Conservation in the Philippines, a project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), looked at slash and burn practices, illegal timber poaching, soil erosion, improper solid waste disposal, dynamite fishing, and the need for natural resource management.

From 2012 to 2014, WorldFish implemented the European Commission-funded project Implementing an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries in Small-Scale Tropical Marine Fisheries, which developed the capacities of local governments and communities to foster more integrated coastal and fisheries management practices in the province of Misamis Occidental.

Since IBAMO’s formation, the local coastal resource management plans and the Harmonized Fishery Code of Misamis Occidental have been updated and ratified, both of which are critical for improving coastal resource and fisheries management and enforcement.

One activity implemented under the code is the color-coding of 160 fishing boats to prevent the intrusion of commercial fishing boats into municipal waters and to prevent fishing boats moving between municipalities. Under this scheme, deputized fish wardens from each area can easily spot and police unauthorized boats entering their waters.

“The color-coding scheme greatly helped us in law enforcement. It even saved us fuel for the patrol boats manning our shores. Detecting illegal fishers and boats at sea has been easier with the help of the scheme,” says Francisco Paylaga, Jr., the municipal mayor of Panaon.

A total of 237 community members and key officers from local government units and national government agencies were trained on sustainable resource management strategies, coastal resource management, fish catch data collection, and monitoring and evaluation.

As a result of IBAMO’s strong leadership, a total of 11 coastal resource management resolutions were passed and are being enforced in the province. IBAMO has recently received accreditation from the provincial government as a recognized partner organization in the development and implementation of environmental programs.

Mayor Estaño believes the greatest benefit of IBAMO is that it has brought together the local governments and regional institutions to manage the bay’s resources: “It served as the catalyst and the pillar of co-management among the local governments. It was indeed a big help and a blessing to all of us. This is what we have been waiting for.”