Our country is one of the world’s largest archipelagos, stretching 2,000 kilometers from north to south. It consists of 7,107 islands with an estimated 17,460 km of coastline, underscoring the maritime culture of our people.
Consequently, fishing is a very important industry in the Philippines. In 2012, we ranked 7th among the top fish producing countries in the world. The industry also accounted for 15.4 percent (P199.3 billion) and 18.5 percent (P131 billion) of the Gross Value Added in Agriculture, Hunting, Forestry and Fishing Group. It also employed a total of 1,614,368 fishing operators nationwide (NSO 2002 Census for Fisheries). Similarly, due to our maritime culture, the Philippines also has one of the highest per capita fish consumption in the world at 36 kg per year of fish and fishery products.
On Feb. 27 this year, RA 10654 or “An act to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, amending the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998” lapsed into law. Accordingly, the amendments to the Fisheries Code are all aimed at giving the local fishing industry a better chance of rebuilding fish stocks and allowing for a more rational approach to fish catch production. Although we are optimistic with these reforms, it is crucial that our laws are not only properly implemented but, more importantly, made responsive to the realities of our people so that we can ensure food security in the long term.
One particular provision— Section 7 of the law—amended Sec. 14 of the existing Fishery Code on “monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing in all Philippine waters and Philippine-flagged distant water fishing vessels” has been decried by the Southern Philippines Deep Sea Fishing Association Inc. For one, SOPHIL president Leonardo Y. Tan complained, under this provision, the government will deploy observers to check whether fishers are in legal waters. However, it will be the fishing sector who will shoulder the allowances and the insurance of these personnel. Moreover, although the government will buy the tracking equipment, fishers will have to pay monthly fees to support this.
SOPHIL has also decried the monetary penalties for illegal and unregulated commercial fishing which they alleged are too high compared to fees imposed on other industries. Another complaint expressed by the fishing industry was that the government held no consultations with them or any other commercial fishing groups in the country before the law was drafted.
Dr. Mario Pascual, a fish trader based in Navotas City, said his group and other medium-scale commercial fishing operators had been campaigning across the country against the punitive provisions of the law. He stressed the fact that during their campaign tours, they learned that majority of our fisher folks in the commercial and municipal levels were ignorant of RA 10654. This confirmed that there was no public consultation on the creation of RA 10654.
Moreover, small fisher folk they represented also contest the imposition of a 3-kilos-a-day catch limit being implemented by the BFAR in connection with the provisions in the law which puts as fishing prohibition “beyond 15 kilometers [of the bay] from the shoreline,” the prohibition of the use of nets and other “active gear” in fishing, and the delimitation of the amount of fish to be caught in allowable areas.
Clearly, this law lacked the proper consultation with stakeholders since it is not based on experience. For a country where the staple after rice is fish, limiting the catch to 3 kilos a day smacks of economic genocide. The drafters did not take into account the realities of small and commercial fishers, who most often than not, need to borrow money on a daily basis for their foray into the sea. Imposing a limit on their catch effectively equates to killing them slowly. Moreover to limit fish catch would also mean putting our impoverished brethren of their main source of vitamins and proteins. Surely, majority of us cannot afford meat, hence fish is our main source of protein and other essential nutrients. Strikingly significant as well is the question as to why did the President failed to sign it and Malacañang just merely allowed it to lapse into law? RA 10654 only came to public knowledge when a copy of it was published in newspapers early last March.