‘More monitoring vessels to stop illegal fishing’

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said it had put more monitoring vessels and forecasting technologies that local fishermen could use to keep track of aquatic resources and identify which areas need less fishing to prevent depletion.

In a virtual Oceana Philippines briefing earlier this week, BFAR Assistant Director John Albaladejo highlighted his agency’s efforts to enforce Republic Act 10654, which aims to discourage and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the country.

The BFAR has started putting in place vessel monitoring and electronic registration systems in various commercial vessels to help hasten developments in the fishery sector, Albaladejo said.

These systems, he added, would help improve science-based indicators for the sustainability of fish stocks, and thus strengthen science-based management of sustainable fisheries.

“We’re already putting all the infrastructure. We want to put them all within this year. We started to put some transponders to our commercial vessels here locally, [while in the] high seas, we’re almost finished. They’re already being monitored and there are fishing observers on board,” the BFAR official said.

According to him, installing more of these systems would help the government gather more information about the sector, particularly on its campaign against IUU fishing.

Such fishing ranges from small-scale, unlawful domestic fishing to more complex operations carried out by industrial fishing fleets. Data on this is hard to gather, as it is complex and secretive by nature.

Also during the briefing, several local government units (LGUs) and fishermen’s groups renewed their call on the government to scrap House Bill 7853, which proposes to allow commercial fishing in municipal waters.

Marita Rodriguez, executive director of NGOs for Fisheries Reform, said banning commercial fishing in these waters would stop the depletion of already reduced fish stocks.

Allowing them, she added, would worsen overfishing and negatively impact small fishing communities.

A report released by the US Agency for International Development and BFAR on Tuesday showed that 27 to 40 percent of fish caught in the country in 2019 came from illegal fishing. This figure translates to an estimated value of P62 billion annually.

It also found that at least 30,000, or 30 percent, of municipal vessels remain unregistered, and commercial fishers do not report up to 422,000 metric tons of fish annually.

BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona said the Department of Agriculture was developing an IUU Fishing Index and Threat Assessment Tool, which would be adopted in the country’s dozen fisheries management areas.

“Once fully implemented, this tool will provide us with periodic information needed to identify other ways to encourage voluntary compliance, strategically guide law enforcement operations, and clearly communicate our progress in reducing IUU fishing in the Philippines,” he added.