The League of Municipalities in the Province of Romblon, Pangisda Natin Gawin Tama (PANAGAT) and Oceana called on government anew to fast track the implementation of Vessel Monitoring Measure (VMM).
Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore the abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.
Under Republic Act 10654 also known as the Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Act of 2015, all fishing boats of commercial scale must have a tracking device on-board.
“The implementation of this requirement of law has been delayed for almost four years and it is imperative for the government to fast track its implementation to protect our food base,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President and head of its Philippine office.
According to Ramos, while fisheries and maritime law enforcement agencies are busy with COVID19 monitoring, commercial fishing vessels are grabbing the opportunity to intrude into the 15 kilometers of municipal waters, where they are not allowed.
She said that from January to March 2020, there were 13,803 boats believed to be commercial in scale that were detected fishing inside municipal waters by a satellite-based device called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Oceana monitors the VIIRS everyday and publishes its result on a free app called Karagatanpatrol.org.
Mayor Gerard Montojo, president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines Romblon Chapter said: “We cannot allow illegal entry of commercial fishers in municipal waters. It is even more unacceptable that these commercial fishing operators are taking advantage of the situation that our attention is directed at this COVID-19 pandemic, trying to keep our constituents healthy and spared from the spread of this virus. The immediate implementation of the rules on vessel monitoring measures is most needed. We need support in monitoring our municipal waters and the tracking device installed on commercial fishing boats plying our territorial waters is a big help so we can run after them, seize their boats, and arrest them so they are held accountable by the law.”
The Department of Agriculture- Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) issued Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 260 in 2018 which provides for the Guidelines on the Installation of VMM on vessels that are 30 Gross Tonnage and above. However, the law requires that all commercial fishing vessels including 3.1 GT and above must have a tracking device.
Last week, DA-BFAR submitted an amendment to FAO 260 that covers Guidelines in the Installation of VMM on all commercial fishing vessels for review and recommendation of the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (NFARMC) but Oceana and other members of PaNaTag raised concern over its Transitory Provision which allows commercial fishing vessels to conduct test fishing on small pelagic species in the municipal waters for purposes of research.
Pangisda Natin Gawin Tama (PANAGAT), an umbrella organization of major non-government organizations, echoed Oceana’s concern and issued the following statement:
“The delaying tactics of the issuance of FAO 260 effectively allows IUU Fishing to continue. Vessel monitoring measures must apply to all commercial fishing vessels in all fisheries management area within the Philippines’ EEZ. No exemptions is emphasised. Issue FAO 260 now and allow full participation of CSOs in ensuring that RA 10654 is fully implemented without fear or favor.”
“We are calling on the Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar to order a thorough review of the proposed FAO and issue a lawfully compliant Guidelines soon and avoid further delay in the implementation of the vessel monitoring requirement,” said Ramos.