Why installing tracking devices on commercial fishing boats is a big help for LGUs

ALBAY, Philippines – Having tracking devices installed on commercial vessels serves as much needed support for local government units seeking to look after their municipal waters.

That's why The League of Municipalities in the Province of Romblon, and non-government organizations Pangisda Natin Gawin Tama (PANAGAT) and Oceana once again called on the government to fast track the implementation of the Vessel Monitoring Measure (VMM).

Under Republic Act 10654, also known as the Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Act of 2015, all fishing boats of commercial scale must have a tracking device on-board.

Mayor Gerard Montojo, President of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines Romblon Chapter said, "We need support in monitoring our municipal waters" via installed tracking devices "on commercial fishing boats plying our territorial waters so we can run after them, seize their boats," and have them be held accountable by the law.

"The implementation of this requirement of law has been delayed for almost 4 years and it is imperative for the government to fast track its implementation to protect our food base," said lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President and head of its Philippine office.

Especially needed during the pandemic

According to Ramos, while fisheries and maritime law enforcement agencies are busy with coronavirus monitoring, commercial fishing vessels are taking the opportunity to intrude into the 15 kilometers of municipal waters – waters where they are not allowed.

She said from January to March 2020, there were 13,803 boats – believed to be commercial in scale – detected fishing inside municipal waters by a satellite-based device called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Oceana monitors the VIIRS everyday and publishes its result on a free app called Karagatanpatrol.org

"It is even more unacceptable that these commercial fishing operators are taking advantage of the situation that our attention is directed at this COVID-19 pandemic, trying to keep our constituents healthy and spared from the spread of this virus," Montojo added.  

The Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) issued Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 260 in 2018, which provides for the Guidelines on the Installation of VMMs on vessels with 30 Gross Tonnage and above.

It also requires all commercial fishing vessels including 3.1 GT and above to have a tracking device.

PANAGAT said this "delay in the issuance of FAO 260 effectively allows IUU fishing to continue. Vessel monitoring measures must apply to all commercial fishing vessels in all fisheries management areas within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone without fear or favor."

The groups also raised concerns as the DA-BFAR recently submitted an amendment to FAO 260 that allows commercial fishing vessels to conduct test fishing on small pelagic species in the municipal waters for purposes of research.

Expressing the same need

During the League of Municipalities of the Philippines' General Assembly last March, the mayor of Vinzons, Camarines Norte was among those who approached Karagatan Patrol for help with monitoring.

"Mayor Eleanor Secundo pleaded if we can help her in addressing this problem where illegal commercial fishing activities swarmed their municipal waters," said Karagatan Patrol.

While they have an active Bantay Dagat team, apparently their efforts may only be good in portions of the municipal waters as shown in our monitoring map, Karagatan Patrol explained.

Based on VIIRS historical data the swarming of these commercial fishing activities starts during the month of March up to September. The municipality of Vinzons is Top 26 in 2019 VIIRS Boat Detection. The Mayor also asked the Maritime Police in Camarines Norte for help.

"To impress upon them that there is continuing effort to assist local government units (LGU) detect potential illegal activities at sea that may be beyond their capacity to detect is like giving them a telescope," Karagatan Patrol said.

If implemented, it will aid in banning illegal commercial fishing and prevent small scale fishers from being forced to do illegal fishing and stop corruption.

"We are calling on the Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar to order a thorough review of the proposed FAO and issue lawfully compliant guidelines soon and avoid further delay in the implementation of the vessel monitoring requirement," said Ramos. – Rappler.com