By Cielito M. Reganit
MANILA, Sept. 23 (PNA) -– The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) stressed Wednesday that the amended Fisheries Code of the Philippines is aimed only at stopping illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) practices and to promote a sustainable fishing industry, which in turn would lead to inclusive growth in the country’s fisheries sector.
Nazario Briguera, chief of the Public Information Office of BFAR, stressed that RA 10654 — an Act that Prevents, Deters Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing which amended RA 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 — does not at all prevent anybody from fishing for income, but only regulates the industry so as to protect the rights of small fisherfolk.
His statements were made amidst calls by a few sector of the fishing industry to stop the implementation of the RA 10654 due to what they alleged as onerous provisions.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala is set to sign the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the revised law Thursday, September 24.
In the meantime, Briguera said that besides promoting inclusive growth, the amended law also provides the mechanism to reverse the destruction wrought by decades of overfishing and IUUF to fish habitats and the environment in general.
According to several studies conducted by BFAR and the scientific community, only a little more than one percent of the country’s coral cover is left as of 2004.
Likewise, the country’s mangrove cover has been reduced to only 24 percent, from 500,000 hectares in the 1990’s to only 117,700 has.
In the meantime, a study made by the National Stock Assessment Program showed that 10 out of the 13 fertile municipal fishing grounds in the Philippines are overfished, resulting to decreased catch for municipal fisherfolk.
“Overfishing, along with other IUUF activities are destroying natural fish habitats and the marine environment. These resulted in the increasing poverty incidence among small fisherfolk due to the decreasing fish population in municipal waters,” Briguera said.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), poverty incidence among fisherfolk was estimated at 35 percent in 2003, 41.2 percent in 2006 and 41.3 percent in 2009.
The BFAR official said that the amended law, in essence, provides harsher penalties to those who will violate it, mostly commercial fishing vessels who stray into municipal waters.
By law, commercial fishing vessels are not allowed to fish in municipal waters, or within 15 kilometers from the shore.
Commercial fishing vessels are those with gross tonnage above three (3) gross tons (GT).
Under the revised law, penalties for the violation of the Fisheries Code now range from Php 500,000 to Php 10 million – up from Php 10,000 tto Php 500,000 – depending on the size of the violating fishing vessel and the commercial value of the marine resources harvested.
The revised law also provides mechanisms that comply with international fishing covenants on conserving marine resources in which the Philippines was a signatory.
These include attaching Vessel Monitoring Measures (VMM) and having a Fisheries Observer onboard commercial fishing vessels.
Briguera said that these are to ensure that commercial fishing vessels would only fish in areas delineated by the law.
The implementation of the VMM on commercial vessels would be implemented on a staggered schedule ranging from within 6 months (above 200 GT) to within four years (30 -49.9 GT) from the date of the effectivity of the IRR.
The DA official also stressed that “nowhere in the law does it provide limiting the volume of fish that could be caught.”
“There is no truth to the information being spread by a small sector of the fishing industry that only three kilos of fish would be allowed per fishermen in municipal waters.
“The only aim of the amended law is to prohibit commercial fishing vessels from fishing in municipal waters in order to protect our small fishermen,” he said.
“We respect the rights of everybody to express their own opinions. BFAR welcomes any issues or clarifications on the true objectives of the revised law even as we urged everyone to promote the conservation of our fragile marine resources,” Briguera said. (PNA)