By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave, Reporter 

COMMERCIAL fishing in municipal waters pervades amid the coronavirus pandemic and the government should step up its monitoring and apprehension of violators to protect small fisherfolk, according to marine conservation group Oceana.   

Oceana said in a statement on Thursday that 42,934 commercial vessels were detected within municipal waters in 2020, about 4.7% lower than the 44,952 reported the previous year.    

The figures were sourced from Karagatan Patrol, a digital platform that uses Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) and senses lure lights that are likely used by commercial fishing boats.    

“Palawan topped the list of provinces with 6,964 of the 44,952 in 2019 and with 6,202 detected out of the total of 42,934 in 2020. Masbate follows with 5,614 in 2019 and 5,721 in 2020,” Oceana said.    

Other areas with high number of night light detections inside municipal waters include Zamboanga City, Tongkil in Sulu, Milagros and San Pascual in Masbate, and Hadji Muhammad Ajul in Basilan.   

“Illegal commercial fishing has long been the source of misery of artisanal fisherfolk who are counted among the poorest of the poor. The municipal waters are reserved for their preferential use and access under the 1987 Constitution and Republic Act No. 10654 or the Fisheries Code as amended,” Oceana said.   

Municipal waters covers areas 15 kilometers from the shoreline.    

Data from Karagatan Patrol also indicated that 145,094 vessels using super lights were spotted in the country’s municipal waters from 2018 to 2021.    

Of the total, 37,738 were detected in Fisheries Management Areas (FMA) No. 4 which cover Antique, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, and Negros Oriental in the Visayas in central Philippines, and Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga City, Isabela City, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao in the country’s south.    

For her part, Oceana Vice President Gloria Estenzo-Ramos urged the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to fully implement Fisheries Administrative Order 266 that requires the installation of vessel monitoring measures to avoid illegal behavior within the country’s water.    

“We are urging the BFAR to fully implement (the order) to deter illegal, reckless, and irresponsible behavior in our waters. The data from Karagatan Patrol only serve as leads to law enforcement agencies but tracking of the location, identification of the offenders, arrest and seizure, filing of cases in court and getting the violators penalized are facilitated if the vessel monitoring system is in place,” Ms. Ramos said.    

Meanwhile, Oceana said Karagatan Patrol now has new features such as being able to present specific data on boat detection by using maps of FMA, country’s territorial and internal waters, municipal waters, the Exclusive Economic Zone, the Kalayaan Island Group, and even the protected seascapes.