Oceana, fisherfolks urge agri secretary to enforce fisheries protection laws

International non-government organization, Oceana, welcomes the long-overdue appointment of a permanent Secretary of Agriculture and extends its hands in partnership for the full enforcement of fisheries laws and regulations and mainstreaming science-based, participatory, transparent and accountable fisheries governance under Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr.

“It is our fervent call to the new secretary to strengthen the reforms for evidenced-based, transparent and sustainable management in addressing the challenges faced by the fisheries sector including overfishing, declining fish production and worsening poverty in the fisherfolk sector and coastal communities.”

This was the statement released by the organization following the announcement by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the appointment of Laurel Jr. as head the agriculture and fisheries portfolio of the government.

“The tall order should not stop in reducing the prices of food commodities. We are in an archipelagic country, blessed with the longest coastline and declared as the world’s center of marine biodiversity. We should be able to feed Filipinos with fish and seafood that are accessible to all especially the nutritionally and food insecure coastal communities. We have progressive laws that are set to protect our marine environment and restore our fisheries abundance and we look forward to having these fully implemented,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President.

Pablo Rosales, President of PANGISDA Pilipinas said they are committed to protect the ocean and their fishing ground. “Ang panawagan namin sa bagong Kalihim ng DA ay tiyakin ang pagpapanumbalik ng kasaganaan ng karagatan sa pamamagitan ng pagpapatigil ng lahat ng proyektong sumira dito sa mga nagdaang taon – overfishing, reklamasyon, offshore mining, seabed quarrying at malawakang polusyon. May krisis tayo sa pagkain at ang pagpapaunlad sa lokal na pangisdaan na pinangangalagaan ang kapakanan ng maliliit at municipal na mangingisda na isang malaking bahagi ng ating pangisdaan.”

Academic experts and scientists presented to then BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona in 2019  data from the government’s National Stock Assessment Program (NSAP) that “unambiguously show” the status of overfished galunggong and sardines, the country’s top pelagic fish resources.

Fisheries scientists led by Dr. Wilfredo Campos of University of the Philippines Visayas and members of the National Scientific Advisory Group (NSAG),  said in their letter to BFAR in 2019 that allowing commercial fishing activities inside 10.1km + from shore will have adverse impacts on municipal fishers.

They said that for every 5% increase in commercial fish catch, this will result in displacing 5000 municipal fishers.

Likewise, for every 10% increase in commercial fishing activity, there will be a resulting displacement of 10,000 municipal fishers or 50,000 fishers and their families will lose their livelihood source.

The Fisheries Code, as amended (Republic Act 10654) strengthens the monitoring, control and surveillance mechanisms through vessel monitoring measures (VMM) to stop the intrusion of commercial fishing vessels inside the 15-kilometer municipal water.

According to Oceana and the scientific experts, the pre-mature harvest of juvenile fish, and destruction of marine habitat and spawning ground of fish larvae inside this water are among the major culprits for the red status of our fish stocks.

President Marcos in his June 23 Executive Order directed the full implementation of the vessel monitoring requirement. The Fisheries Bureau has committed to attain 100% compliance by this year.

Rosales added this call to fellow fisherfolk: “Bantayan natin ang bagong upong Secretary ng Agrikultura. Ang kanyang track record ay hindi pabor sa atin at ang kanyang mga kasama sa komersyal na pangisdaan ay nagtutulak ng pagbabago sa Fisheries Code. Bantayan natin at tiyaking hindi nila gagamitin ang kanilang posisyon upang madaliin ang pag-amyenda sa batas pangisdaan.”

Oceana and municipal artisanal fisherfolk groups expressed their opposition to the President’s pronouncement in his last State of the Nation Address that called for the amendment of the Philippine Fisheries Code (RA 10654). The groups called for the comprehensive and full implementation of key reforms that were introduced by the law.

“On top of this list is the science-based, ecosystem approach to managing our depleting fishing grounds through Fisheries Management Areas where management efforts are just starting. We also must prioritize the implementation of transparency measures that are critical in combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, specifically the installation of vessel monitoring measures (VMM) on commercial fishing vessels and electronic reporting system (ERS) of fish catch that should be publicly accessible. We must ensure that all these measures are fully implemented to address the worsening conditions of our fisheries,” the groups’ statement read.