BFAR sticking to Fisheries Code amendments
(The Philippine Star) - November 27, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) stands by the proposed amendments to the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, saying it is important to institute  reforms in the domestic fisheries subsector.

Fisheries director Asis Perez yesterday said the Bicameral Committee on Agriculture has finished deliberations on the proposed amendments contained in House Bill No. 04536 and Senate Bill No. 2414.

The consolidated bill would then be subject to ratification by both houses of Congress. The proposed amendments to the Fisheries Code is expected to be signed into law by the President soon.

Perez said the BFAR would begin on Saturday consultations with stakeholders on the creation of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the proposed law.

Operators of commercial fishing vessels oppose the proposed amendments to the law, saying it imposes “oppressive” and “confiscatory”  regulations that threaten to drive them out of business.

Member companies of the Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations Inc. said over the weekend they are especially concerned about the imposition of harsh penalties for violations, as well as the requirement to invest in monitoring equipment deemed too expensive to procure and maintain.

Under the proposed amendments, the penalties imposed for violation of fisheries law would be raised to the range of P500,000 to P10 million from the current range of P10,000 to P500,000 imposed under the present law.

The violations covered by this penalty scheme ranges from having incomplete permits to breaching of the 15-kilometer distance from the mainland coastline required on commercial vessels.

Vessel owners could also face imprisonment for violations their vessels are involved in. Under the present law, only the vessel captain, chief engineer and master fisherman may be held liable for violations.

The group is also against the requirement for fishing vessels to install Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) devices which may entail expenses of over P240,000 per vessel, plus the monthly maintenance subscription fee of over P20,000 per vessel.

This, the group said, would raise operations cost and ultimately raise fish prices.

“This is part of the responsibility of those who want to use marine resources. This is meant especially to control the proliferation of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” said Perez.

Perez maintained that the installation of VMS in vessels is also implemented in other countries such as in Vietnam.

As for the steeper penalties to be imposed once the bill is passed into law, Perez said this is meant to ensure strict compliance to the law.

“We need to make the penalties proportional to the benefits they (fishing vessel operators) gain from the sea. The imposition of higher penalties would ensure that no one would violate the law,” he said.

Commercial vessel operators are also concerned about the requirement to host onboard fisheries observers picked out by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). The salaries of these enforcers would be paid for by the owners of the vessels they are monitoring.

These fisheries observers, they note, could override the authority of a vessel captain and may order him to sail the vessel to the nearest impounding port upon suspicion of a violation. The observer could also claim a bounty of 20 percent of the catch value.

Perez said these observers would only be paid a minimum wage, as is practiced worldwide, and would only be onboard the vessels during times that need strict enforcement such as during closed seasons.

Vessel operators also claim that they have not been properly consulted about the proposed amendments as consultations and deliberations have been conducted in the span of less than a year.

Alliance said the government “railroaded” the amendments because of trade commitments made by the government to the European Union (EU).

“The consultations were conducted at as fast pace compared to other legislation, that is true,” said Perez. “But the administration wants to speed up the enactment of reforms,” said Perez.

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