Vessel monitoring appears to deter illegal fishing and protect small-scale fishers

MANILA, Philippines – Small-scale fishers in the marine life-rich Tañon Strait are already satisfied if they catch five kilos a day, even though they are nowhere near the 15-20 kilos they used to take, said Ven Carbon, a fishing chef in Cebu. .

“That’s enough to buy three kilos of rice and a dish,” Carbon said. “But crude oil is so expensive right now.”

Carbon fish in the country’s largest marine protected area. The Tañon Strait, located between the islands of Cebu and Negros, is a source of food and income for many people in the central Philippines.

However, the rich fishing area is also a hotbed of illegal fishing. Large vessels and those equipped with purse seines encroach on the Strait of Tañon, even though they are prohibited from entering the legally protected seascape.

Much of the narrow seascape is also reserved for artisanal fishers or those licensed to fish in municipal waters within 15 kilometers of shore.

“It is true that our fishing grounds are degraded. The problem is that the catches of commercial fishermen are getting bigger, while our catches are going down,” Carbon said.

To protect the rights of small-scale fishers – who are among the poorest in the country – and to ensure the seas return to their bounty, fishers and conservation organizations are pushing for the full implementation of vessel monitoring measures .

“It is important to recognize that our ocean is in an alarming state of decline. The vessel monitoring mechanism is part of the strong measures to track the identity and location of commercial fishers and deter illegal fishing behavior,” he said. said Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, who runs non-profit Oceana Philippines.

RELATED: Oceana: Commercial fishing boats seen in municipal waters as government concerned about COVID-19 fight

Oversight mechanism

The amended Fisheries Code, or Republic Act 10654, requires commercial vessels to install Vessel Monitoring Measures (VMM) and an Electronic Reporting System (ERS).

VMM refers to any method or system that tracks the position, course and speed of vessels at any given time. It aims to monitor the activities of fishing vessels, their catches and landings, to detect illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities and to manage fisheries resources in a sustainable manner.

ERS records, reports, stores and sends fishing data such as catches, landings and transshipments.

The groups believe that the amended Fisheries Code, if fully implemented, guarantees preferential access and protects the rights of artisanal fishers.

“Science-based management, including transparency, is essential if we are to bring back the abundance of the ocean and deter illegal fishing and the continued encroachment of commercial fishing vessels into municipal waters that are reserved for our artisanal fishermen,” Estenzo-Ramos said.

“These also address the issues of inequality, social and climate justice and poverty that have plagued our fishers and coastal communities for decades.”

However, only 52% of all licensed fishing vessels have vessel monitoring systems, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said. According to Oceana, 3,077 licensed commercial fishing vessels ply the country’s waters.

Unconstitutional?

Fishing companies and associations have opposed the installation of VMS, saying it could affect their profits as competitors will know where they are fishing.

In a legal opinion issued on February 7, Solicitor General Jose Calida advised BFAR and the National Telecommunications Commission to comply with the June 1, 2021 decision of the Malabon Regional Trial Court that declared the administrative order on Fisheries 266 null and void for unconstitutionality.

The trial court also made its injunctive enforcement order permanent.

The administrative order signed by Secretary of Agriculture William Dar in October 2020 lists the rules and regulations relating to the implementation of the VMM and ERS.

Oceana and fishing groups appealed the Malabon decision to the Supreme Court.

Following OSG’s advice, BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona ordered the regional directors of the office to suspend implementation of FAO 266 until the Supreme Court overturns the court injunction.

Estenzo-Ramos, an environmental lawyer, pointed out that orders from an RTC, a tribunal with limited jurisdiction, cannot be enforced nationwide. He added that the issuance of injunctions by the RTC is void as it is prohibited to issue injunctions by the amended Fisheries Code and Rules of Procedure for Environmental Matters.

Gongona said in a letter to Philstar.com that “[p]ending a Supreme Court resolution on the constitutionality of FAO 266, the office continues to uphold its monitoring, control and surveillance mandate to prevent and deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”

He cited the use of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) nightlight to detect high-radiation lure lights used by fishing boats, fisheries observer deployment and regular patrols as others. means of monitoring fishing activities.

He said while these methods help guard against illegal fishing, they also have “inherent limitations”. Patrols and observers, for example, must be physically present in the waters to detect illegal fishing.

“Therefore, the use of VMS, which is an internationally recognized tool, enables a more optimized, innovative and integrated surveillance system that expands and improves the current office surveillance, monitoring and surveillance program,” he said. -he declares.

‘Kings’ of the sea

Pablo Rosales, who has fished in Manila Bay since the 1970s, said commercial fishing vessels were “intimidating” artisanal fishermen in municipal waters. In the 1990s, before the country’s fishing code was changed, Rosales’ small boat was hit by a commercial fishing vessel.

“Of course you’re going to be scared of them because their boats are big and carry a lot of people. They’re the ‘kings of the sea’ when they’re on the move. If you’re in an area where they want to fish, they’ll don’t respect you,” he said.

The national president of PANGISDA-Pilipinas criticized the lack of political will of government officials and weak enforcement of laws and regulations meant to protect small-scale fishers like him.

“They just need to enforce what’s written in the law. Are law enforcement officials really serious about enforcing the law?” said Rosales.

For Carbon, the government must provide fishers with financial assistance and livelihoods, and empower grassroots organizations to manage the country’s waters sustainably.

The fishermen are also calling for a true rehabilitation of the seas through the restoration of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves. They also urged authorities to end the reclamation and mining of sea pearls.

“Science has long shown that our seas are [being] destroyed, and not only small fishermen are degrading it, but also large vessels. The destruction of the seas plunges artisanal fishermen into poverty and makes the rich even richer,” said Rosales.

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