Ferdinand Cruz is a regional coordinator for the Destructive Fisheries Reform Program, an outreach of the International Marinelife Alliance in the Philippines and Indonesia.


How big is the problem of cyanide fishing here in the Philippines?

In the Philippines there are four to six thousand cyanide users. It’s bigger in Indonesia because they have a bigger area and they’re catching a lot of groupers and they’re number one in ornamental fish. It’s hard because when they come in, they do not bring in the cyanide; they tie it in a reef area. If they’re using it, they have a pre-arranged signal so that if any boat approaches, they just drop the cyanide. So it’s very hard to catch.

How do you deal with corrupt local government officials?

It’s very hard to deal with corrupt officials. We usually just back out of the area when we have to deal with corrupt officials. And we go to areas where the mayor is more — the officials are more sincere. And then we try to make it a model for the others to copy.

What do you think is the best way to stop cyanide fishing?

It’s very hard but we have to just do training with the fishermen right now because they need to feed their family. And then the resources have been destroyed by commercial fishing and corrupt officials and enforcement. So they need to be able to do training and go into a holistic approach where each should have a solution to their problem.

Why do you think so many people in the Philippines and Indonesia use cyanide?

In Indonesia they say that they do not know other alternatives then using cyanide to catch fish, in terms of the products that they need. Then the middle man that pays them a very low price. So they have to catch more; that’s why they’re using cyanide.

Is it still possible for fishermen to catch groupers and ornamentals without using cyanide?

There is a chance for them to get out of cyanide if they are properly trained. And again they have to have that market link-up. Because if the middle man pays them a very low price, the pressure for them to catch more is there. So, they have to go back to cyanide.

Could you comment on how IMA (International Marine-life Alliance) helps those fishermen you are working with to link up directly with the market?

We are looking for 100% net caught exporters, or those who are committed to just ship out 100% net caught. So that on the buyer side they will really feel it’s net caught and it doesn’t die immediately on them. So on the hook and line thing, they also are looking for an outfit that would like to do 100% hook and line.

Do you think it’s a good idea for consumers who buy groupers and ornamentals to seek out fish from suppliers that are caught with hook and line or with nets?

It’s very important that the buyers of live fish and net caught ornamentals should seek out only net caught.

Have you seen restoration of coral reefs in areas where you trained fishermen to catch without cyanide?

We have seen the restoration coming in, but we need to really monitor it and IMA has to really…it takes time because IMA has to monitor and see to it that the habit of using cyanide is weaned out of the fisherman. Because it becomes a habit for a fisherman.

You mentioned earlier that you penetrated Davao del Sur first, an area rife with sea gypsies. That’s where you found the toughest customers. Could you comment on that?

When I went there, I went to different areas and they kept pointing me to Davao and then to Santa Cruz area until we found the Bijaos and they were known to be the leaders in illegal fishing there. So we did the penetration there and we have been there for a duration.

Have there been times when lives of IMA staff members or even your own life has been threatened by going into a community?

We have not been threatened in these villages because basically fishermen are looking for alternatives. But if they can see that the alternative that is given to them can make them earn, they’re even the ones who protect our staff now.

Many of the scientists we have spoken with believe the situation is fatalistic in Indonesia and the Philippines, that there’s not a lot that can be done to stop cyanide fishing until the government does something about it. How does that make you feel?

I do not think it’s that fatalistic because in the village that we have trained, the fishermen even notice that their seaweeds have a good harvest right now, and the price is right. Much more if they can have an export permit. Then they said they’re going to be more successful because they’re not now using cyanide there. So they even volunteered to accompany us to other islands there to introduce the program because they believe in the program now. Now here in the Philippines, it’s also the same; they have the same outlook. But like the Bijaos and the other people that we have trained in Mindano, they are very happy about the whole thing and they have stopped using cyanide.

It doesn’t really matter because these people have not really had their inter-relationship with the villagers and stayed there and saw the problem…see how sometimes only the whole family can hit only once a day or once every two days, like the Bijaos, before we came in. So, once the alternative is given, more often than not, they follow the kind of alternative we give.

What motivates you to keep on going despite the bleak picture?

I love my work. I love the ocean, I love diving and I’ve seen re-growth in the corals, so there is hope. So, it’s just that we have to work.

How do you see it working out?

It should be a continuous, training of different areas and like in Davao, where they now protect their resources because they get money from it, it becomes a very good example. If the buyers would go direct to these fisherman and pay them the right price then there is no question about these fisherman protecting their resources. Because they will just keep getting from that area that they have been fishing on.

It’s terrific that you’re teaching these fishermen non-destructive fishing methods. However if there are too many of them fishing couldn’t that still lead to over fishing?

On the ornamental fish there is a control system. The market does not get the juvenile because that’s not it. Or the big ones not the spawners because it does not also… It cannot be kept alive in a aquarium. Now the fisherman…a prime example is in Davao, after he earns 10 dollars he goes home. He does not fish anymore until he runs out of money again. That’s the way a fisherman is, and that’s what is happening there.

As the population continues to grow and even though they may only fish until they have $10, there are many, many more fishermen out there. Could it still not put pressure on the resource and lead to over fishing?

In areas that we do training, it has to be very sustainable. We do not introduce intervention in an area which is not sustainable. That is the prerequisite of the training. Well, even here where we dove where the reefs are destroyed, there’s a lot of fish. More of fish than food fish, of course.