Phl adopts action plan vs illegal fishing
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - December 15, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The government has adopted a national action plan seeking to prevent and eliminate illegal fishing in Philippine waters amid recent high-profile poaching incidents by foreign vessels.

The plan is contained in Executive Order 154 signed by President Aquino last Dec. 6 and published in a national daily yesterday.

In the order, Aquino said illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing undermines efforts to manage fisheries in a sustainable manner and threatens food and livelihood security of coastal communities.

“There is a need to address the ecological, biological and socio-economic challenges posed by IUU fishing in a coordinated and integrated manner through a collaborative institutional mechanism involving the concerned departments and agencies of the government,” the order read.

Aquino also cited the need for the Philippines to implement the action plan as a member of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

One of the key items in the action plan is its aim to introduce IUU fishing in the high seas and in coastal waters of other states as a new statutory offense.

“Poaching shall remain a criminal offense and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” the order read.

The drive against poaching will be strengthened by allowing the Department of Agriculture to automatically confiscate the foreign fishing vessel, its paraphernalia and equipment and fishing gear and to compound the offense until the administrative fine is fully settled.

The move was meant to boost the administrative remedy against poaching.

Also in the action plan is a policy on states that do not cooperate in the efforts to curb illegal fishing.

“The Philippines will implement actions taken by RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organizations) of which it is a member or a cooperating non-party against any non-cooperating state which engages in or supports IUU fishing,” it read.

The action plan also called for the development of an “appropriate and administratively feasible” monitoring control and surveillance system.

It also requires the government to form a surveillance network composed of different agencies and private groups to prevent illegal fishing. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has been tasked to convene the network.

Fisheries director Asis Perez said the committee is mandated to implement a “stringent response” to all forms of illegal fishing in all Philippine waters and on all Philippine-flagged vessels regardless of the location of operations.

Perez said the directive covers foreign vessels practicing illegal fishing in Philippine waters as well as in the country’s area of responsibility in the West Philippine Sea.

“We have to respond to such according to our law,” he said.

Perez said stricter implementation may entail higher penalties and closer monitoring of all forms of illegal fishing activities.

The action plan also enumerates policies for the effective monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing activities in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The plan said the Philippine Navy (PN) is now developing its monitoring control and surveillance system to consolidate information gathered from its sea assets.

“It will establish a PN Maritime Monitoring and Surveillance Center that will form the core of the production, analysis, assessment and dissemination of surveillance data gathered by different government agencies,” it read.

The action plan noted the 1987 Constitution “gives prominence to the marine wealth of the country and reserves its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”

“This renders the operation or entry of any foreign fishing vessel in Philippine waters unlawful and may constitute poaching,” it read.

Poaching is punishable with a fine of $100,000 and confiscation of catch.

The lack of maritime assets has prevented security forces from enforcing the country’s fisheries law.

Last year, a Chinese ship barred the Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen who had poached endangered maritime species in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales.

The ill-equipped Filipino authorities failed to stop the fishermen from carting off their harvest. – With Czeriza Valencia

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