Benham Rise seen as fishing hot spot

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and marine scientists have sailed for the first time this year the 13-million hectare Benham Rise in an effort to protect and increase marine productivity in the country.

BFAR and marine scientists from non-government organization Oceana Philippines and the University of the Philippines continue to discover the country’s newest territory on board a government research vessel.

The undersea region east of Luzon is located off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela, and duly recognized by the United Nations in 2012 as the newest Philippine territory in compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the unexplored seamount, is one of the traditional fishing grounds of coastal dwellers on the northeastern coast of Luzon.

“This could serve as a new alternative fishing grounds for Filipino fishermen, since the area is known as the migration path of fish, including tuna,” BFAR chief scientist Rhoda Bacordo said.

Oceana Philippines is providing remotely operated vehicles and technical diver-videographers for the expedition to get additional footages and allow researchers to extensively analyze the marine life in the area.

This year’s expedition is also making use of the baited remote underwater video system (BRUVS) to measure fish populations which uses footage from two cameras attached to a frame with fish-bait at the center and specially licensed software to estimate fish sizes and analyze the maximum number of fish seen at a given time.

“We are hopeful that whatever new discoveries will be made in this expedition can serve as the basis for crafting a management and conservation plan for this new territory,” Oceana Philippines marine scientist Marianne Saniano said.

Based on oceanographic explorations, there are more than 50 species of fish and tiered plate corals in the Benham Bank.

The area is part of the spawning grounds of the highly valuable Pacific bluefin tuna which are known to swim to the US and Mexico, but came back to spawn in the western Pacific including in the Benham Rise.

The Biodiversity Management Bureau has also announced plans to organize a workshop on management strategies for the sustainable use of resources in Benham Rise considering the need for complete baseline assessment of the region.

One of the options being considered is to declare Benham Rise as a marine managed area, with Benham Bank as the core zone with protected status and the rest as exploration areas.

Government initiatives and explorations started in 2013 as the Benham Rise plays a big role in the fisheries sector because the shallowest area has shown primary productivity.

BFAR continues to undertake oceanographic studies in the vicinity of Benham Rise alongside the implementation of fisheries assessment and the National Payao Program in an ttempt to mark the country’s territories.

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