THE Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) failed by a wide margin to meet its P1-billion annual target for fines collected in connection with illegal fishing activities, a Senate panel was told.

BFAR National Director Eduardo B. Gongona said collections average P14 million a year over the last two years in connection with activities to discourage Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF), though he claimed that the deterrent effect of the BFAR’s operations has depressed collections. He did not provide more detailed data.

“Reduced collections from fisheries apprehension indicate that… those who do illegal fishing are too scared to come out,” he told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the hearing.

The Philippines is committed to crack down on IUUF by a number of international agreements, most significantly the General System of Preferences-Plus (GSP+), a privilege granted by the European Union (EU) that allows tariff-free entry of a range of Philippine goods.

The failure to collect the targeted level of fines was taken to indicate shortcomings in enforcement.

The Senate agriculture and food committee was assessing the impact of Republic Act (RA) 10654, the Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.

Senator Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the committee, said the failure to meet the quota was unacceptable.

“What is important is you have a target to meet,” Ms. Villar told BusinessWorld after the hearing, rejecting BFAR’s claim that it needs more resources to crack down on foreign poachers.

Mr. Gongona said that the P1-billion target can be reached given adequate capacity to go after foreign poachers beyond municipal waters.

Ms. Villar also noted at the hearing that BFAR failed to disclose its IUUF data dating back to 1998, and threatened to subpoena the agency.

A resource person “cannot come here and just not give an answer. They should just give it so that it shouldn’t lead to a subpoena.”

Ms. Villar noted during the hearing that the EU is currently conducting a review of the IUUF situation in the Philippines after the country’s “yellow-card” status was lifted in 2015.

Ms. Villar added that the Philippines currently exports P9 billion worth of fish products to the EU, which could be endangered if the country fails to crack down effectively on IUUF. — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato