‘More effective, defined’: BFAR consults fishing groups on fisheries code amendments

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said there are ongoing discussions with fishing communities and stakeholders in the fishing industry on the possible amendments to the country’s fisheries law.

Rommel Adolf I. Diciano, head of BFAR’s conservation and environmental protection section, said the bureau is actively collaborating with lawmakers and stakeholders to strengthen its legal framework through the amendment of Republic Act (RA) No. 10654.

RA 10654, which amended RA 8550, known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, imposed higher penalties against violations of the fisheries law and instituted a vessel monitoring system, among several reforms.

“Pertaining to the amendments to the fisheries law that we are proposing, [there is an] undergoing consultation and we have asked the various sectors… to [propose] possible amendments to our fisheries law,” he said.

Diciano encouraged the fisherfolk groups to share their viewpoints and on-the-ground experiences to have realistic and comprehensive amendments to the law.

“In the spirit of policy democracy, we want to get your side… your participation is important as you witness the real situations,” he added.

In contrast, Edlyn L. Rosales, leader of a fisherfolk organization based in Bataan, emphasized that there is no need to amend RA 10654 because the amended law has not been fully implemented.

“Maraming magagandang batas na nasa loob ng RA 10654 kaso ang problema kasi natin doon ay walang tiyak na inilagay or binigyan ng power ’yong ating gobyerno para sa tiyak na magpapa-implement ng mga nilalaman,” she stressed.

“Mahira kasi na magagawa naman tayo ng… amendment sa law ng hindi naman talaga nagagamit ng 100% yung batas,” she added.

Rosales said that while the bureau has been consistent in its efforts to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF) in the country, there has to be “real teeth” in it as these violations are still widespread.

Diciano said the amendments are “not to totally change the law but to make it more effective and more defined.” He furthered that it will also address the “vagueness” and deficiencies in certain parts of RA 10654.

The BFAR official also noted that while the bureau has bolstered its monitoring, control, and surveillance systems, the participation of local communities is also as important in its enforcement efforts in deterring IUUF activities.

“Kung kami-kami lang po, admittedly, ay mukhang mahihirapan po kami. Kailangan po namin ang tulong ng ating mga pamayanan upang labanan ang IUUF,” he explained.

Meanwhile, acting vice-president of Oceana Philippines Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio called for “transparency in vessel information, fishing activity, and governance and management in general”.

Eisma-Osorio stressed that “IUUF is intrinsically linked to the lack of transparency in our maritime domain.”

She said transparency in the public domain enables scrutiny and encourages compliance, thus helping in addressing issues such as overfishing and IUU fishing, corruption, and depletion of marine lives that jeopardizes the livelihood, and food security of coastal communities.

In late June this year, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. issued an order on the implementation of vessel monitoring measures (VMM) for commercial fishing vessels. This required fishing operators to install satellite transponders that will monitor and report their catch.