Fisherfolk count gains one year after amended PH Fisheries Code

A year after Republic Act (RA) 10654, which amended the Fisheries Code of 1998, was passed, fisherfolk associations, civil society organizations and environmental NGOs are underlining the gains of the amended law in a press conference held on Monday.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Food and the primary author of RA 10654 or the Amended Fisheries Code, joined the groups and vowed continuous commitment towards enabling mechanisms for the strict implementation of the law.

“I am happy to tell the world, together with the more than 1.5 million municipal fisherfolk, that our RA 10654 has ushered the end of rampant, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF). The urgency in addressing poverty and allowing our seas to heal was my mantra in fighting back the lobby of big commercial fishers and illegal fishers,” said Senator Villar.

Villar also commended the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for facilitating the formulation of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the law and the Comprehensive National Fisheries Industry Development Plan, which was crafted by stakeholders in aquaculture, marketing, post-harvest and capture, and which contain targets and action plans for development for the next five years. She also cited the creation of Community Fish Landing Centers for the national development of shellfish, crabs, and broodstock.

“It is our common interest to make sure that there will be a continuous and healthy fishing industry in our country, and it can only be achieved if we prevent all forms of activities that jeopardize the sustainability of our resources,” Villar said. “I encourage all stakeholders to join us in making Philippine fisheries sustainable.”

Villar led the Senate in voting unanimously for the ratification of the reconciled version of Senate Bill 2414 and House Bill 4536 that amended the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. This came after the Philippines almost faced an export ban of fisheries product to the European Union (EU) for failing to address IUUF. According to BFAR, Philippine fish exports to the EU was valued at P9.4 billion (165 million euros) in 2013.

Fisheries and conservation NGOs, together with municipal fishers, used the EU warning as an opportunity to push for reforms to address the problems of the Philippine seas.

“Amending the law is a victory. RA 10654 provides the framework on the shift from an open access regime, where everybody and anybody can extract from our fragile coastal and marine ecosystems, to a sustainable fisheries management regime, where strict regulations against destructive fishing practices are in place and strictly implemented,” said Dennis Calvan, Executive Director of NGOs for Fisheries Reform (NFR), one of the organizations who pushed for the amendment.

Calvan added that the reason more than 75 per cent of our fishing grounds are overfished, as mentioned by BFAR in the National Stock Assessment Program, is due mainly to the long decades of neglect in implementing the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, leading to the destruction of coastal and marine resources.

“A year into RA 10654, strengthened fisheries law enforcement is already happening, with almost weekly apprehensions of illegal fishers in our waters. Increased penalties against dynamite fishing, cyanide fishing and encroachment of commercial fishing vessels within the 15-kilometer municipal waters, are now being strongly enforced in the Burias-Ticao Pass in the Bicol Region. Some of the fish are coming back abundantly in our waters,” said Miriam Belaos, a fisherfolk leader of Pantao Fisherfolks Association, based in Bicol.

The Amended Fisheries Code has strengthened the protection of the priority rights of municipal fishers by making the penalties deterrents to commercial fishing vessels plotting to conduct fishing activities inside municipal waters.

“We won the first stage, but we still need to do more by implementing harvest control rules for fisherfolk to fish within the limits of the sea and implement strong traceability system to make sure that the seafood that we are eating are not illegally caught,” said Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines. “The solution is very viable as shown by the recent success of the Sustainable Seafood Week, where major hotels and restaurants pledged to only source and serve traceable and sustainably caught fish.”

Cinches also said that while the passing of the Amended Fisheries Law is a good start, he stressed the importance of this year’s Presidential elections to sustain the gains of the victory.

“While the year 2015 has established the basic ingredients for healthy Philippine seas, it is important that the next President of our country puts ocean conservation at the heart of governance in order to address poverty and usher in truly inclusive national development,” Cinches added.

Also present during the press conference are Lito Pavia and Joel Convocar, Bantay Dagat representatives from Ligao City, Albay; Bernie Castellano of the Occidental Mindoro Federation of Tuna Fishers Association Assisted by WWF; Councilor Pietro Pasigna and Jeruel Rizon, fisheries technician from Guihungan City, Negros Oriental, Assisted by Oceana.

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