International advocacy group Oceana Philippines demand transparency on the amount that the government specifically the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) requires to subsidize the vessel monitoring requirements of the commercial fishing industry.
“We would like to know how much exactly does the government intend to spend for the vessel monitoring mechanism (VMM) and, more importantly, why is the government going to subsidize these from taxpayers’ money when commercial fishing operators can well afford it?”
The statement was issued in response to the recent pronouncement of the BFAR that it is subsidizing the purchase of transponders and tracking subscription of commercial fishing boats.
Republic Act 10654, otherwise known as an Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing which amended the Fisheries Code, mandates the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to implement a Vessel Monitoring Mechanism (VMM) to be able to track fishing vessels. Its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) provides timelines for its full implementation but requires that for commercial fishing vessels from 3.1-30 GT, to craft the rules by October 2016. This has yet to be done by the agency.
“Vessel monitoring was required by the law not only to track the location of the fishing vessels but to also regulate extraction, that is, to keep track of fishes that are being caught by all commercial fishing vessels at a given time and specific fishing ground. It is in effect a transparency and accountability mechanism. Unfortunately, the BFAR has not issued the long overdue guidelines for 3.1-30 GT fishing boats most of which are found in municipal waters illegally fishing,” explained Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President of Oceana.
Ramos said the declining fish stocks is of crisis proportion unless the government takes action and save the food and livelihood of our poor fisherfolk and the Filipino people. “It is truly sad that plunder in our ocean continues due to the greed of commercial fishing operators, whether Filipino, Chinese or otherwise,” she added.
Ramos said other countries have adopted Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) which are satellite-based for their commercial and industrial-scale commercial fishing fleets. This would have more expensive transponders and subscription rates but even then the government is not subsidizing them because it is part of the commercial fishing trade. She explains that in many countries, a tracking device with active subscription is a pre-requisite in acquiring or renewing fishing boat license.
In the Philippines, we entertain non-satellite technologies that is significantly cheaper and can be adapted inside archipelagic waters.
“From our experience in pilot testing vessel monitoring, we found that the subscription from vessel monitoring can amount to a minimum of only P800 a month. Having a monitoring, control and surveillance system as mandated by the amended Fisheries Code should not remain a dream for the Philippines because food security and livelihood of poor artisanal fisherfolk are the main issues here. We need to restore the fisheries and marine biodiversity of our municipal waters because these are where our fish stocks are grown sustainably. Our poor fisherfolk need not sacrifice their lives and limbs to go out to high seas and rough waters to earn and feed their families,” said Ramos.
Oceana is the only international non-government advocacy organization working solely on ocean conservation. In the Philippines, the group has gained victories for our oceans and continues to push for policies that fully implement the ban on commercial fishing in municipal waters, stop illegal dump and fill projects that will kill the mangroves, seagrass and corals, and marine ecosystems, and works with government in establishing Fisheries Management Areas that will craft and implement science-based policies in the different parts of the country.