Fisheries code amendments oppressive, says fishing group
MANILA, Philippines – A fishing group is contesting the amendments to the Philippine fisheries code that lapsed into law on February 27.
Although acknowledging that amendments to the Fishing Code of 1998 are needed under existing trade obligations with the European Union (EU), the Alliance of the Philippine Fishing Federations said the imposition of harsh penalties for violations and the requirement to invest in expensive monitoring equipment "oppressive and confiscatory."
The European Parliament granted the Philippines inclusion in the EU's General System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) in December 2017.
Members of the Alliance of the Philippine Fishing Federations met President Benigno Aquino III two weeks ago to raise their concerns about the measure but they were told that the President has the obligation to sign, veto or let it pass into law, said Alonso Tan, the group's president.
The amendments to the Fisheries Code lapsed into law on February 27 without Aquino’s signature.
‘Oppressive and confiscatory’
Under the amendments, penalties imposed for violation of fisheries law were raised to P500,000 ($11,308.93) to P10 million ($226,167.74) from the range of P10,000 ($226.17) to P500,000 ($11,308.26) imposed under the present law.
The violations includ failure to secure permits required for commercial vessels to breach the 15-kilometer distance from the mainland coastline. Vessel owners could also face imprisonment for such violations. Under the present law, only the vessel captain, chief engineer, and master fisherman may be held liable for violations.
Irma Fishing and Trading Inc. owner Bobby Del Rosario, who also attended the meeting with Aquino, earlier said that while commercial fishing companies observe the limitations of the law, there are conditions, like rough seas, that may cause breach of the 15-kilometer rule.
The group is also against the requirement for fishing vessels to install Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) devices that are estimated to cost over P240,000 ($5,428.63) per vessel, plus the monthly maintenance subscription fee of over P20,000 ($452.39) per vessel.
A large fishing company may have as many as 40 vessels while smaller fishing companies may have as low as 5 vessels.
Del Rosario said requiring all fishing vessels to install such devices would raise operations cost and ultimately, fish prices,
The vessels would also be required to host onboard fisheries observers selected by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
These fisheries observers can override the authority of a vessel captain and may order him to sail the vessel to the nearest impounding pot in suspicion of a violation. They may also claim a bounty of 20% of the catch value.
Such new regulations are “too oppressive and confiscatory,” Tan previously said.
The proposed amendments impose laws applicable to international fishing operations and do not fit the realities of the local fishing industry - the operations of which are “marginal and not as lucrative as international operations,” Tan said.
The EU GSP+ is a scheme that allows beneficiary countries to export 6,274 products to any of the 28 members of the EU bloc at zero tariff for a period of 10 years.
The country’s inclusion in the EU’s GSP+ provides duty free entry to the EU for some of the most important Philippine exports like fish, and also textiles, fruit and foodstuffs, footwear, and coconut oil.
In February, the European Commission extended by 6 months the time given to the Philippines to comply with requirements before deciding whether or not to ban the country from exporting fish to the EU.
Tan said the group would be meeting Tuesday, March 10, to discuss their other options, which include proposing further amendments to questioning the constitutionality of the law before the Supreme Court. – Rappler.com
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