Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said yesterday after a historic three-day exploratory trip to 13-million hectare underwater plateau Benham Rise that the area is a key to securing the country’s food security.

Piñol said he will report to President Rodrigo Duterte in today’s Cabinet meeting that Benham Rise is a rich fishing ground that should be protected and secured from over-fishing and over-exploitation.

The DA Secretary said he will recommend to the President and the Cabinet the construction of a facility in Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of Benham Rise, to house a research center for marine scientists, a dock for the local fisherfolk, an ice-making plant to keep fish catch fresh, a station for the Coast Guard, and a weather radar station.

Piñol, together with a team from the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Aquatic and Natural Resources (BFAR), explored Benham Rise on May 5-7, 2017 to conduct research on how to harness the full potential of Benham Rise.Three technical divers explored the shallowest part of the Benham Bank which is around 35 meters to study the sea floor and check for the possibility of establishing a research center in the area.

The DA Secretary presided over the floatation of 15 payaos or fish aggregating device (FAD), the initial batch from a total of 30 payaos to be floated by BFAR in the region designed to attract fish to congregate for easier fishing.

“This is a pro-active action to discover how rich Benham Rise is as far as natural resources are concerned. More importantly,  this is also to protect the area from overfishing and to give our fisherfolk priority access to Benham Rise’s marine resources and make them partners in ensuring the protection of Benham Rise,” Piñol said.

Benham Rise is a 13-million hectare underwater plateau that is around 5,000 meters deep from the sea surface and accounts for 43% of the total fish catch landed at Dinahican Port in Infanta, Quezon.

Prior to boarding the 1,186-gross ton multi-purpose vessel MV DA-BFAR, Secretary Piñol together with DA Undersecretary for Fisheries Eduardo Gongona, Undersecretary for Operations Ariel Cayanan, local officials from Quezon province, and other BFAR officials, held a dialogue with fisherfolk families from Regions 3 and 4A and distributed livelihood assistance.

The livelihood assistance worth P6.93 million included 15 units of 30-footer motorized fiberglass bancas, 15 units of deep-sea payaos, 300 sets of bottom set gill net for fisherfolks of the towns of Patnanungan, Unisan, and Sariaya in Quezon province, 50 pieces of life vests, 32 units of solar lanterns, six sets of bouy markers with accessories, and 300 units of tuna handlines.

In addition, Piñol also committed that the DA would build two ice plants for Polilio Island and deliver eight 38-footer twin engine boats with ice box and an additional 200 fiberglass boats and two patrol boats to protect the region’s fishing grounds against illegal fishers. It can be recalled that Piñol announced that the government is serious in its battle against illegal fishing.

“I recommended to the President to suspend mayors who refuse to act against illegal fishing in their respective municipalities,” he said.

To prove the government’ seriousness in dealing with illegal fishing in the region, he announced that the DA will propose to the DBM the acquisition of helicopters and 20 unmanned drones to aid in patrolling the Philippine coastal areas.

“The Philippines is losing $30 billion yearly due to illegal fishing; that is why we are reinforcing our efforts against illegal fishing while exploring new fishing grounds for our people” Piñol said. (### Carlos Cezar Baldosa DA-AFID)