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Hunting “Big Fish”: A marine environmental history of a contested fishery in the Bohol Sea

Acebes, Jo Marie (2013) Hunting “Big Fish”: A marine environmental history of a contested fishery in the Bohol Sea. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The Bohol Sea in the Philippines has a high biodiversity of large marine vertebrates. It is also one of the primary fishing grounds in the Central Visayas. This is a study of the history of interactions of the fishers of the Bohol Sea with the ‘big fishes’ living within it. These ‘big fishes’ are the large marine vertebrates, namely whales, dolphins, whale sharks and manta rays. It is the story of the changes in the Bohol Sea and how the communities who depended on it affected these changes. Similarly, it discusses how the Bohol Sea and the large marine vertebrates shaped the lives of the coastal peoples living around it. This study aims to determine the extent of the fisheries for whales, dolphins, whale sharks and manta rays in the Bohol Sea from the 19th century to recent times. It focuses on the fishing communities of southern Bohol, Camiguin and Southern Leyte in the Central Visayas, who are known to hunt these large marine vertebrates, and aims to describe the characteristics and trace the evolution of these fisheries. Through a multidisciplinary approach, this study uses a combination of ethnographic and historical research methods, together with biological data, from published and unpublished sources. The study aims to determine if the abundance and distribution of large marine vertebrates in the Bohol Sea changed in the long-term. It also examines how the fishing communities adapted to the ecological, socio-economic and political changes over time.

From its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, the hunting of whales, dolphins, whale sharks and manta rays, in the different communities around the Bohol Sea underwent very similar and, for some, identical technological developments. These fishing technologies and patterns were adapted to the nature of their target species. By the late twentieth century, with increasing population, worsening economic conditions, and declining fish stocks in the country, the Bohol Sea fishing communities’ dependence on the fisheries for large marine vertebrates also increased. Likewise, fishery policies and legislative frameworks were also evolving with a more protectionist and conservationist stance. The implementation of fishery bans in the 1990s compelled most fishers to comply and adapt, however others resisted. Communities who lived in an environment endowed with more diverse and abundant resources proved to be more resilient. While those who heavily depended on the fishery and had little else to turn to have continued to hunt up to the present day. Despite continuing protests and public clamour for a total ban on hunting for all other species of rays in the Philippines, the ray fishery in the Bohol Sea continues.

This study demonstrates how state efforts to conserve whales, dolphins, whale sharks and manta rays in the Philippines have been ineffective. This is primarily because of the lack of legitimacy of these fishery policies in the eyes of the communities. This study also highlights the importance of using multiple and non-traditional data sources in evaluating fisheries that are data deficient. The study shows how it is important to examine the historical context of ecological and social systems in order to understand the causes of contemporary resource management problems.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Management and Governance
Supervisor(s): Tull, Malcolm and Warren, James
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