Amended Fisheries Code takes effect this week
(The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will implement beginning this week the amended Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 that cracks down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The much-contested amendment lapsed into law on Feb. 27 amid strong opposition from the local commercial fishing industry which is upset over what it considers to be “oppressive and confiscatory” regulations.

Fisheries director Asis Perez said the amendments made to the Fisheries Code would ensure the protection of the country’s marine resources.

 “The government is putting in place changes that are necessary to help the fisheries sector move forward. The law is re-echoing our goal to eradicate all forms of unsustainable resource use as these compromise not only the environment, but also the long-term livelihood and employment of around 1.8 million fisheries stakeholders,” he said.

Perez recognized that the implementation of the new law would not be easy as the government and the private sector still clash on some provisions of the law.

The private sector, however, had agreed to make the law work for the fishing industry through the crafting of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the law.

“Both the government and the stakeholders agreed to participate in the drafting of the IRR of the Fisheries Code,” he said.

The IRR drafting committee would be composed of 18 representatives from the fisheries sector, nine from the government sector, two from the academe and two from non-government organizations.

Among the issues that would be discussed in the drafting of the IRR are the imposition of higher fines and penalties for serious violations and the mandatory installation of vessel monitoring system (VMS) on all domestic fishing vessels.

The commercial fishing industry is particularly concerned about the imposition of harsh penalties for violations and the requirement to invest in monitoring equipment that are too expensive to procure and maintain.

The amended law raises the penalties imposed for violation of the fisheries law to a range of P500,000 to P10 million from the range of P10,000 to P500,000 imposed under the old law.

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

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

The commercial fishing industry argued that while fishing companies observe the limitations of the law, there are conditions—such as rough sea conditions—that may cause breach of the 15-kilometer rule.

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

A large fishing company may have as many as 40 vessels, while smaller fishing companies may have as little as five vessels.

Companies, they said, would be required to fit all their vessels with VMS devices, not just catching vessels, therefore raising operations cost and ultimately raise fish prices.

The Philippine government amended the Fisheries Code largely because of the yellow card warning slapped by the European Union (EU)  in June 2014 over alleged insufficient action to curb illegal fishing. The government had six months to act on recommendations, otherwise, the EU would ban the entry of all Philippine marine exports to the EU.

In 2013, Philippine exports of fish to the EU amounted to 165 million euros (P9.4 billion).

The implementation of the amended Fisheries Code is supposed to bode well for Philippine fisheries exports as the country secured in December 2014 an EU GSP + status, the only country in Southeast Asia to do so.

The EU GSP+ is a scheme that allows beneficiary countries to export 6,274 products to any of the 28 members of the EU bloc at zero tariff for a period of 10 years.

Products that enter the EU duty free include marine products, coconut products, processed fruit, prepared food, animal and vegetable fats and oils, textiles, garments, headwear, footwear, furniture, umbrellas, and chemicals.

Prior to securing EU GSP+ status, the Philippines was a beneficiary of the regular GSP program which only covered 6,209 products, with 2,442 products subject to zero duty and the rest subject to lower tariffs.

Meanwhile, BFAR also launched yesterday a hotline that would be used with Vietnam on fisheries surveillance.

Through this communication channel, the two countries could immediately coordinate on the appropriate emergency response for distressed Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen in the high seas.

The creation of the hotline was initiated during the 4th Joint Committee Meeting under the Philippine-Vietnam Bilateral Cooperation in the Field in Hanoi City October last year.

 “Vietnam like the Philippines is a major fishing nation and our bilateral cooperation in the field of fisheries is dictated by our common goals to manage the resources, improve the fishery industry’s condition and ensure our fishers’ welfare and safety when they go astray in the offshore fishing areas,” said Perez.

 

 

ASIS PEREZ BUREAU OF FISHERIES AND AQUATIC RESOURCES EUROPEAN UNION FILIPINO AND VIETNAMESE FISHERIES FISHERIES CODE FISHING GOVERNMENT LAW VESSELS
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