AN OCEAN protection and conservation group has opposed moves to amend the Fisheries Code of the Philippines, specifically regarding the potential allowance of commercial fishing in municipal waters.
Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio, the acting vice president of Oceana Philippines, said that this potential change will have adverse effects on the municipal fisherfolk and could also negatively impact the marine ecosystem in municipal waters.
“Our position is that the Fisheries Code should not be amended because it has not fully been implemented yet,” Osorio told SunStar Cebu on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.
The Fisheries Code of the Philippines, or Republic Act (RA) 8550, was enacted in 1998. Congress passed RA 10654, which amended RA 8550, in 2014. RA 10654 lapsed into law in 2015 after then President Benigno Aquino III failed to sign it in 30 days.
Osorio said one of the modifications to the Fisheries Code being pushed by the National Government is the allowance of commercial fishing vessels to legally fish within municipal waters.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. urged Congress to support his plan to revise the Fisheries Code during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 24. He emphasized the need to “protect both the interests of our fisherfolk and our fisheries and aquatic resources.”
Marcos, who is also the agriculture secretary, is pushing for changes to the law to “guarantee sustainable development of our fisheries sector in harmony with environmental balance.”
Municipal waters are bodies of water within the jurisdiction of a municipality. They include inland waters such as streams, lakes and ponds, as well as marine waters that are within 15 kilometers of the coastline.
The Fisheries Code states that municipal fishing vessels using passive, non-destructive fishing gear and weighing less than three gross tons are permitted to fish in municipal waters.
According to Osorio, Oceana is looking at signs that show decline of fish stocks in the country, adding that if the National Government will allow big fishing companies to operate inside municipal waters they fear “events of collapse to happen.”
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) Fisheries Situation Report noted a 13.5 percent reduction in the volume of production of fimbriated sardines, one of the major species with reported declines for the first quarter of 2022.
From producing 10,763.28 metric tons of fimbriated sardines in 2021, the following year, the country produced a slight decrease at 9,313.74 metric tons of fimbriated sardines.
The PSA previously reported that fisheries accounted for 12.7 percent or around P54.32 billion of the total value of agricultural production in the first quarter of 2023, which was registered at P428.69 billion.
Implement, not amend
Osorio, who is also an environmental lawyer, said significant amendments are already contained in RA 10654, which aims to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The law includes a science-based approach to managing the country’s dwindling fishing grounds through Fisheries Management Areas.
She said the nation’s amended Fisheries Code now has more teeth and the required controls to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, thus, there is no need to revise the law.
This includes the implementation of transparency moves such as the installation of vessel monitoring measures on commercial fishing vessels and electronic reporting system of fish catch that should be made public.
Osorio revealed that consultations were conducted prior to Marcos’ Sona. These were organized by the commercial fishing sector and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Osorio said Oceana was “actually uninvited,” but the group forced themselves into the consultation.
Oceana signed a joint statement last May 17, together with some municipal fisherfolk, condemning the consultations held at the Swiss Belhotel Blulane in Manila.
According to Osorio, the President’s pronouncement “was not done with careful thought or advice.”
“Since he just listened to one particular sector and forgot about the rest of the sectors, especially the marginalized fisherfolk that have for so long been asking for help because they are the poorest of the poor and they need protections for their preferential right in fishing inside the municipal waters,” she said.
The environmental lawyer added that subsistence fisherfolk cannot compete with industrial fishers, thus, allowing the latter inside municipal waters means that fish stocks or the resources will decline.