Anti-Fisheries Code protest undermines fight vs illegal fishing
MANILA, Philippines – Fishermen and traders opposed to the new Fisheries Code are risking setbacks that can lead to a costly European Union (EU) ban on Philippine fish exports, pro-environment and fisheries reform groups warned on Friday, July 24.
The groups gave the warning a day after some Navotas City-based traders and commercial fishing operators observed a "fishing holiday" in protest of the amended Fisheries Code.
On Thursday, the traders withheld fish sale in protest of the ban on fishing within 15 kilometers from the shoreline of municipal waters by all commercial fishing vessels, as provided by the new code.
Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, cited the significance of the new Fisheries Code for the fishing industry, as a whole.
"The Philippines has escaped economic and reputational disaster by the skin of its teeth. The rapid and much needed changes to the fisheries law was a key component of the lifting of the 'Yellow Card,'" Cinches said.
He added that the so-called fishing holiday "will jeopardize the gains of the whole country against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.”
Cinches noted the alarming state of Philippines seas, "considering that 10 out of 13 fishing grounds in the country are heavily exploited and nearly overfished."
Nearshore fishing grounds are supposed to be exclusive for small-scale fishermen under the Fisheries Code, as amended by Republic Act 10654.
"The amendments in the code seek to address IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated) fishing yet commercial fishing operations continue to oppose and refuse to accept stiff penalties for IUU violations,” explained Joann Binondo, who heads the Partnership Programme Towards Sustainable Tuna.
In 2014 , the EU issued a "Yellow Card" to the Philippines due to its deficiencies in fighting IUU fishing, and gave it a deadline to address the problem.
The EU lifted the Yellow Card on the Philippines in April, citing "the adoption of a new Fisheries Code with a deterrent scheme of sanctions," among others. (READ: Philippines a step farther from EU blacklist)
An EU blacklist would have "cost the country a whopping 173 million euros of export to the European markets," the groups said.
'Permanent' fishing holiday?
As a result of the country’s degraded marine environment caused by various factors, including overfishing by commercial vessels, local fisherfolk suffer heavily from loss of income. (READ: Why we must protect our seas)
"A single violation of one commercial fishing boat into municipal waters robs 64 municipal fishermen of their daily catch," explained Dennis Calvan, executive director of NGOs for Fisheries Reform.
Calvan said those who participated in the fishing holiday "should make their fishing holiday permanent to allow our seas to recover from unabated exploitation."
"They are not allowed to fish there in the first place," he added.
Depleting fish stocks due to IUU fishing affects livelihood in coastal communities. (READ: Fisherfolk suffer from PH seas degradation)
According to Greenpeace, the cost of fishing in terms of gasoline and time increased over the years, while the resulting yield relative to the cost was at its lowest since the 1950s.
The volume of fish caught compared to fishing cost – known in conservation biology as Catch per Unit Effort (CPUE) – has been steadily declining in the Philippines. (READ: Filipino wives appeal for fishermen-husbands detained in Indonesia)
The decrease in the CPUE in the Philippines indicates overfishing, which may account for over-all production increase at the expense of long term gains. – Rappler.com