High seas pocket fishing rules released

Posted on March 04, 2014

IMPLEMENTING rules for fishing in a tuna-rich high seas pocket were released yesterday.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) issued the regulations on group tuna purse seine operations in High Seas Pocket 1 (HSP-1), in Fisheries Administrative Order No. 245-2, Series of 2014, published in a newspaper yesterday.

"This policy is designed as a conservation measure primarily to reduce effort in the Philippine waters where juvenile tunas are more likely to be found than in the high seas pocket 1," the order read.

The order covers the 36 Philippine-registered traditional group seine fishing vessels with gross tonnage of not more than 250. The vessels must have international fishing permits, have paid a $1,600 fee for a special permit to operate in HSP-1, and be registered with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

Vessels must also comply with the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea and with the Catch Documentary Scheme.

They should also have not been convicted for any administrative or criminal offenses for engaging in fishing activities that violate conservation and management measures adopted by the WCPFC.

As for vessels’ equipment, the purse seine net must have a mesh size of not less than 3.5 inches, starting at the mid body to the entire wing, while the ring net mesh size must be at least 3.5 inches at both wings.

The catcher fishing vessel and its supporting carriers must be equipped with a two-way vessel monitoring system (VMS), and corresponding light boats should have at least a one-way automatic location communicator (ALC).

"Installation of ALCs to light boats shall be in phase manner," the order read.

Real-time, continuous VMS information must be transmitted by the Fisheries Monitoring Center to adjacent coastal states/territories.

Each tuna purse seine/ring net operation group must commit to deploy no more than 40 fish aggregating devices per catcher vessel. FADs are buoys, drifting logs, and other similar objects used to attract fish.

The order also requires each tuna purse seine/ring net operation table group to engage the services of an accredited regional observer, "preferably fishery graduates".

The owner and the three highest ranking officers of the boat must also attend a BFAR orientation prior to operation.

Catcher vessels listed with access to the high seas are also barred from fishing for tuna in Philippine waters during the validity of their license in the high seas. However, BFAR may issue a special approval to the contrary, "in the furtherance of national priority".

At least 24 hours prior to entry and no more than six hours prior to exiting HSP-1, the vessels or fishing company must notify BFAR by electronic or any other means. The information will also be sent to adjacent coastal states or territories and the WCPFC.

The reports must include the date, time, and geographical coordinates of the vessel’s entry and exit.

Vessels operating in HSP-1 must also report sightings of any fishing vessels to the BFAR and the WCPFC Secretariat, indicating the vessel type, date, time, markings, heading and speed.

All landings of vessels operating in HSP-1 must be done at the General Santos and Zamboanga fish ports or other ports operated by the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority. The BFAR must receive a catch log sheet "to insure that reliable catch by species are collected for process and analysis".

The annual total catch per vessel must not exceed an equivalent to 273 high seas fishing days.

Transfers of access right or vessel replacements must be approved by the BFAR.

Penalties for violating the order include, for sailing from the home port to HSP-1 without an onboard observer, a P100,000 fine for the first offense and a P500,000 fine and revocation of the special permit for HSP-1 for the second offense.

If the BFAR FMC has notified the vessel that its VMS automatic location communicator is not transmitting as required, the vessel must report its position manually every four hours. Otherwise, the BFAR will impose a P500,000 fine for the first offense and a P1-million fine as well as revocation of the special permit for the second.

Similarly, failure to make the entry/exit or sighting reports and intentional non-submission of catch log sheets will be penalized with P500,000 for the first offense and P1 million for the succeeding.

Vessels that exceed the maximum number of fishing days must pay P1 million, and the owner will lose all special permits for HSP-1.

Non-compliance with the mesh size requirements merit a first-offense penalty of P1 million and a second-offense penalty of P2 million and revocation of the special permit.

Excess FADs will be confiscated, and a fine of P50,000 per extra FAD will be charged.

Unauthorized access right transfer or vessel replacement get a penalty of P1 million the first time and P2 million, plus special permit revocation, the second time.

The order will take effect on March 18, 15 days after it was published.

HSP-1 is the area of the high seas bounded by the exclusive economic zones of Micronesia to the north and East, Palau to the west, and Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to the south, according to the order.

The WCPFC met last December for a conservation plan to reduce tuna catches and prevent over-fishing. The Philippines was the only country granted continued access to HSP-1.

This, the Agriculture department had said in a statement, was "after it was ruled that the country was adhering to responsible fishing practice".

The Philippines had received access in April 2012 until March last year and then received an extension in June. The access was further extended for three years at the December meeting.