Republic Act 10654, which amends the Philippine Fisheries Code, lapsed into law on February 27, 2015. It seeks to “prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated” or IUU fishing in the country.
On Monday, April 13, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) convened the 41-member technical working group (TWG) that will draft the implementing rules and regulations for the new amendatory legislation. The group is expected to finish its work by September.
Civil society members earlier relayed their concern to BFAR over the high number of commercial fishers represented in the TWG. It consists of 20 members from the commercial fishing sector, nine from government, three from NGOs, six from municipal fishers, two from academe, and one from aquarium fish exporters.
Under RA 10654, sanctions have been raised to as high as P45 million for commercial fishing violators, and $2.4 million for poachers. (See attached highlights)
The amended law also mandated the creation of an Adjudication Committee under BFAR, which would speed up the determination of liability of violators and imposition of penalties.
One of the most significant features is the installation of a Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) system in “all Philippine flagged fishing vessels regardless of fishing area and final destination of catch,” which would make it easier to ensure compliance with fisheries regulations.
“There are so many available technologies right now that can help both government and people in monitoring the behavior of fishing vessels. The use of these devices can show if commercial fishing vessels are operating in the right areas. This can help our artisanal fishers regain their municipal waters from encroachment by large fishing vessels. We hope that the technologies eventually adopted will encourage the citizens and civil society sectors to be active part of the efforts in ensuring transparency in Philippine fisheries management,” said Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President of Oceana in the Philippines.
Ramos observed, “These substantial amendments to the Fisheries Code give our country a better chance of rebuilding fish stocks and allow for a more rational approach for fish catch production. We have had good laws on paper but sadly, we have been quite lacking in terms of enforcement.
“While we are optimistic with these reforms, it is crucial that the law is properly implemented so that the country can ensure its food security in the long term,” she added.
In a forum, BFAR Director Asis Perez echoed the general sentiment that the Philippine Fisheries Code had remained weak due to lack of enforcement.
“The (previous) law was not honest enough,” Perez said during the forum “New EU Fisheries Policies: PH and EU Partnership for the Governance of our Planet's Oceans" at the University of the Philippines College of Law last February 25.
The European Union (EU) issued a yellow card warning to the Philippines in June last year, which had been extended to six more months, so the government could reform its policies against IUU fishing.
“The Philippines’ capability against IUU fishing will be judged by our administrative capacity and political will to implement policies,” Perez also acknowledged.
EU Maritime and Fisheries Affairs director-general Lowri Evans said they are pushing for science-based policies, a transparent set of laws, and strict enforcement to properly manage fish stocks all over the world.
“The Philippines is a ‘sea nation.’ Fish is not just a source of food, it is part of the essence of your country,” Evans said.
She noted that while fish supply from the Philippines is increasing, the large-scale degradation of marine habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves remains unabated.
“Fish stocks can be renewable, but unless managed properly, they are finite,” Evans said.
She challenged the Philippine government to be stricter in enforcing laws to promote a culture of compliance.
For the full copy of the RA 10654, click here.