Latin America

5 things to know about the amended PH fisheries code

Vince Cinches

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'The country's fisheries code now has more teeth and the necessary mechanisms to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing'

For more than 3 years now, Greenpeace Philippines, together with its allies and supporters from the fishing industry, has been campaigning long and hard to end illegal and destructive fishing that has long plagued Philippine seas. 

In 2014, the group delivered a Roadmap to Recovery to President Aquino, a proposal to help reverse the deteriorating condition of the country’s marine resources, to safeguard the health of our oceans, to secure the livelihood of coastal communities, and ultimately, to ensure national food security.  

The roadmap includes recommendations from various stakeholders and reflects some of the long standing demands of municipal fishers, sustainable fisheries industry players, coastal and marine non-government organizations, and scientific organizations working to end overfishing.

Thankfully, the recommendations were well-received by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and by other relevant agencies. 

Just recently, the Aquino government amended the Fisheries Code of the Philippines (RA 8550). The law now has more teeth and the necessary mechanisms to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as mandated by the European Union (EU) which plays a key role in the fisheries market. 

In September 2015, the Department of Agriculture (DA) will officially sign RA 10654, or the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Fisheries Code, now titled as “An Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing.” The move has been strongly anticipated by various sectors, while some commercial fishers continue to protest against the IRR’s restrictive and inhumane rules and policies. 

As “seatizens” and stakeholders of the environment, most especially those who love seafood, here are 5 things that you need to know about RA 10654 or the amended Fisheries Code:

1. There are too many boats out at sea.

Photo from Shutterstock.

The adage “plenty of fish in the sea” no longer holds true. The world’s oceans are running out of fish due to unsustainable, and at times illegal, fishing practices triggered by a high demand for seafood. 

Filipino scientists have said that we already reached the maximum sustainable yield of our seas back in the 80s, prompting fisherfolk organizations and government agencies to declare that 10 out of 13 of the country’s fishing grounds have been severely overfished or have now been depleted. Under RA 10654, there will now be harvest control mechanisms to limit fishing efforts based on the health of fishing grounds.

2. Something’s fishy about today’s seafood.

Photo from Shutterstock.

Chances are, the fish on your plate was most likely caught illegally. 

Out at sea, there are a lot of commercial fishers — with big boats that can haul hundreds of   tons of fish at a time — that are notorious for fishing in municipal waters, or areas exclusive to small-scale fisherfolk. For decades, these commercial fishers have been fishing illegally, edging out fishermen who simply can’t compete.

A single commercial fishing operation can impact the livelihood of 65 small municipal fishers. These commercial fishers simply sell their haul to the market, passing it off as legally-caught fish, robbing fishermen of their potential income. This is why fishermen remain one of the poorest sectors of society.

Now, there is a way to stop this highway robbery happening at sea. Under RA 10654, there will now be a vessel monitoring system that will tell authorities when and where exactly boats are fishing.

3. Saved by the yellow card.

Photo from Shutterstock.

In 2014, the EU issued a yellow card warning to the Philippines after decades of rampant illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing happening in Philippine waters. This means the EU is prompting the Aquino government to comply and amend our fisheries law before trade sanctions were imposed. 

Just like in football, if countries do not comply with international fisheries standards, the EU can issue them a red card, as they have done to countries like Cambodia and Sri Lanka. A red card for the Philippines would have resulted to a loss of P9.4 billion worth of Philippine fisheries export, certainly a huge dent to the economy.

4. Penalties are no longer a slap on the wrist.

Photo from Shutterstock.

One of the reasons why illegal and unsustainable fishing flourished is because the government did not impose tougher penalties to those who did not follow Philippine fisheries laws.

For example, a fisherman caught doing dynamite fishing only had to pay a fine of P5,000. Even commercial fishers, if caught and apprehended for fishing illegally, only had to pay a few thousand – practically peanuts in this multi-million peso industry. 

RA 10654 makes it loud and clear that illegal fishers will be made to pay a lot more — to the tune of millions — for plundering our seas and destroying marine ecosystems which may take decades to recover. 

5. Saving sharks and dolphins

In the hunt for more fish, many commercial fishers resort to unsustainable fishing practices like using big purse seine nets or fish aggregating devices which lure fish and other sea creatures like sharks, dolphins and even turtles. This is why sharks and dolphins end up being sold in markets, adding to the illegal trade of endangered species. 

Under RA 10654, it is now unlawful to fish or take, catch, gather, sell, purchase, possess, transport, export, forward or ship out aquatic species listed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or those categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as threatened, or those marine and aquatic species determined by the DA as such. 

Fundamental changes need to be made in the way our oceans are managed from the top down. We need a healthy and thriving marine environment for our sustenance to safeguard people’s livelihood, and to ensure that we continue to have fish on our plate. 

We need seatizens’ support to uphold the gains of this new and revitalized Fisheries Code of the Philippines before it is too late.

Vince Cinches is the Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace Philippines. 

Images of boats, fish, yellow card, starfish, and sharks from Shutterstock.  

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