Philippines to stop issuing new fishing vessel licenses for 3 years

Posted on October 15, 2014

THE PHILIPPINES will temporarily stop issuing new licenses for new commercial fishing vessels and fishing gear for three years to conserve its fish stocks.

The moratorium will cover “any [fishing] boat, ship, or other watercraft” weighing 3.1 gross tons and above, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said in its Circular No. 253 dated October 8, 2014.

The order will start six months after the circular becomes effective in end-October, 15 days after its publication, said the circular, which was published in the Philippine Star yesterday.

“The purpose is conservation and to control the fishing effort in the country’s waters,” Analiza Vitug, chief of BFAR’s regulatory division, told BusinessWorld. The previous moratoriums, such as the one in 2004 that lasted for a year, were undertaken mainly to conduct fish inventories and stock assessments, she added.

The circular cited “the need to decrease... the current level of fishing effort” which “refers to the sum of all fishing effort of the fishing vessels in a group operation.”

The “fishing effort” concept aims to strike a balance between an economy’s fishing capacity, which is measured by the number of fishing vessels among other criteria, and the fisheries resources, Ms. Vitug said.

In the circular, the Department of Agriculture cited a 1997 study that concluded that the Philippines’ commercial fishing effort based on horsepower is 45% more than the optimum level, and that total fish catch had leveled off at 1.65 million metric tons since the early 1990s.

This was followed by a 2004 study that discovered biological and economic overfishing in nearshore and traditional fishing grounds, and recommended a decrease of fishing pressure by about 50-65%.

But Ms. Vitug clarified that the present moratorium is not strictly based on an estimate of fish stock numbers, and there is no estimate of the quantity of fish that will be spared for the three years during the moratorium is in effect.

“The only effect of this is that the status quo will be maintained,” Ms. Vitug said, adding there should be no major impacts on the fishing industry.

At present, Ms. Vitug said there are around 9,200 fishing vessels that meet the criteria of 3.1 gross tons and above in weight.

“The data will show that fish catches now are not increasing. It is not sustainable anymore,” Ms. Vitug told BusinessWorld.

No fishing industry association representative could be immediately reached for comment.

However, Oscar Pobre, chief financial officer of Century Tuna maker Century Pacific Food, Inc. told BusinessWorld, “We are still looking at it.” -- Eric B. Dorente

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