By Alden M. Monzon, Reporter

Monitoring devices in fishing vessels opposed

Posted on April 06, 2015

A ZAMBOANGA-BASED group has opposed a new law requiring monitoring and surveillance devices to be installed in commercial fishing vessels, saying that the move will entail additional costs.

The Southern Philippines Deep Sea Fishing Association, Inc. (SOPHIL) is opposing the provision in Republic Act (RA) No. 10654 which has amended the Fisheries Code, its President Leonardo Y. Tan said.

“The problem there is that the [government] wants to monitor us,” Mr. Tan said in Filipino during a phone interview last week. “[The government] wants to place an observer to check whether fishers are in legal waters. At the same time, the fishing sector will shoulder the allowances, the insurance.”

While the government will buy the tracking equipment, fishers will have to pay monthly fees, Mr. Tan added.

The installation of such devices are contained in RA 10654 which lapsed into law on Feb. 27, 2015, after President Benigno S. C. Aquino III did not sign it after it was transmitted from Congress on Dec. 1, 2014.

Mr. Tan also said that the monetary penalties for illegal and unregulated commercial fishing are too high, especially compared to fees imposed on other industries.

“If you will compare it to the other illegal businesses -- illegal logging, illegal mining -- the highest fines are imposed on fishing,” Mr. Tan said. “It’s more than 100% to 200% difference.”

Under the law, unauthorized fishing or fishing without a license will be fined five times the value of the catch or a fine of the following, whichever is higher: P50,000 to P100,000 for small-scale commercial fishing; P150,000 to P500,000 for medium-scale commercial fishing; and P1 million to P5 million for large-scale fishing.

Aside from these penalties, the three highest officers of the commercial fishing vessel may also be imprisoned for six months and their fishing equipment confiscated.

Mr. Tan also pointed out that the government held no consultations with them or any other commercial fishing groups in the country before the law was drafted.

For its part, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said it will conduct consultations with the different stakeholders next week to discuss the specifics of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) before RA 10654 will be implemented.

The agency has “scheduled a consultation with the stakeholders this coming April 13 to 14 to engage those with reservations,” Nazario C. Briguera, BFAR’s information officer, said.

Last year, the European Commission delivered a formal warning to the Philippines and Papua New Guinea over illegal fishing, requiring both countries to improve their monitoring and control of fishing practices.

Henry J. Schumacher, executive director of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said that if the Philippines wants access to the European market, its fishing industry has to abide by the rules set by the union.

“The European Union just lowered the import duties for food/fish by about 25%. That should help to pay part of the costs,” Mr. Schumacher said in a text message on Sunday. “Otherwise the industry has no option but to argue with government that the cost should be shared.”

The European Union, the world’s biggest fish importer, has already banned fish imports from other countries including Cambodia, Belize and Guinea over illegal fishing in the past, which prevented these countries from selling their produce to any of the 28 member-countries of the union. -- with Reuters