By Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson

THE government must step up with its enforcement efforts against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF) if it hopes to meet the fisheries output target for the year, an advocate for ethical fishing practices said.

“For illegal fishing alone in the municipal fisheries sector, we are losing around 257,000 to 402,000 metric tons (MT) of fish a year, which amounts to P24 to P37.8 billion,” Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama (PANAGAT) Network Representative Dennis F. Calvan said in a Viber message.

In a televised briefing on Feb. 10, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said it expects a self-sufficiency rate in fishery resources of 92% this year.

“The 92% fishery resource sufficiency rate is achievable with the proper implementation of Republic Act (RA) No. 10654, which amended the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, to combat IUUF,” Mr. Calvan said.

Mr. Calvan also urged the government to monitor commercial fishing vessels involved in illegal fishing.

“The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) should assist local government units to protect and manage the 15 kilometer (km) municipal waters zone; ensure the constitutionally guaranteed preferential rights to the 2.3 million registered fisherfolk over the use of coastal resources, protect the critical fishery habitats, which serve as spawning grounds, from damage; and continue implementing the closed fishing season as determined by best scientific evidence,” he added.

For the first quarter, the DA’s fish supply outlook data indicated a self-sufficiency level of 85% due to typhoon damage. In the second quarter, the projection is for a rate of 106% with the opening of fishing season by then.

The DA projects a self-sufficiency rate of 89% for the third quarter and 87% for the fourth quarter.

In a joint statement, fishermen’s associations have urged the government to enforce the rules requiring Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) to properly monitor illegal fishing practices.

“Illegal fishing has remained a problem even if we have the law. The intrusion of commercial fishers in municipal waters caused this problem of overfishing. Our fish stocks are continuously decreasing at an alarming rate. This has caused unjust suffering to poor artisanal fisherfolk — that’s why the government has to (live up to) its mandate to protect the coastal communities’ livelihood and the food security of the Filipino people,” Oceana Vice-President Gloria E. Ramos said in a statement.

“We condemn the continued violations committed by commercial fishing vessels and call on enforcement agencies to include non-compliance with vessel monitoring measures in the list of violations (warranting vessel apprehension),” according to the joint statement.

The Malabon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) recently declared Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 266 unconstitutional. FAO No. 266 requires VMS installation in all commercial fishing vessels under the BFAR’s Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System.

“Requiring the installation of vessel monitoring measures on commercial fishing vessels (will) strengthen the monitoring, control and surveillance system required by the law to encompass all Philippine-flagged fishing vessels. Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar has vowed to implement vessel monitoring measures. The recent reversal in the position of the Office of the Solicitor General on FAO No. 266 implementation is baffling, to say the least,” Ms. Ramos said.

“We call on the BFAR to push through with the implementation of vessel monitoring measures to intercept illegal commercial fishing in municipal waters,” said Norlan Pagal, President of ANAK KO Fisherfolk Association.