Secretary Proceso Alcala said the Department of Agriculture (DA), through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), has been instituting measures to ensure that fishing in the country’s waters becomes sustainable, and that all forms of fishery resource use provide equitable benefits to stakeholders.
“This administration inherited overfished waters and overbuilt fish cage areas that contributed to fish kills and dwindling fishery yields,” Mr Alcala said.
The DA then has engaged fisheries stakeholders to craft and implement policies and programs for the sustainable use and management of aquatic resources, so that these could continue to provide a stable supply of food, livelihood and ecological services.
To facilitate the natural progression of fish breeding cycle, BFAR has successfully enforced four closed fishing seasons from 2011 to 2015. These have led to the resurgence of tamban and galunggong, attracting more tuna that feed on them.
For the first quarter of 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has reported that the total production of yellow fin tuna increased significantly by 11.76 per cent.
The success of the closed season has also led to the Philippines being allowed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to fish in tuna-rich High Seas Pocket 1 of the Pacific Ocean.
More fishery law enforcers
Poor implementation of fishery laws—particularly to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing—has likewise prompted BFAR to propose for the training and deployment of additional fishery law enforcers. In 2010, BFAR had only four fishery law enforcers for the entire Philippines.
With this, the bureau implemented an intensive three-month training course for fishery law enforcers-regulators. The 188 graduates of the course have now been deployed as professional fishery law enforcers.
BFAR has reported that three of the graduates were in fact among the enforcers that captured Taiwanese and Indonesian poachers in Batanes last May.
BFAR has similarly encouraged coastal communities to protect their municipal waters up to 15 kilometers from the shore for the exclusive use of artisanal fisherfolk.
Securing fisherfolk welfare
Recognizing the indispensable role of artisanal fisherfolk in the fisheries sector, the government has implemented programs to ensure improved access of small fishers to social services and to reduce poverty incidence among them.
The National Program for Municipal Fisherfolk Registration (FishR) has been able to register over 1.6 million fishers.
This national registry is instrumental in facilitating the free insurance coverage for the fisherfolk by the Philippine Crops Insurance Corporation. The FishR database has been crossmatched with the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction by DSWD. Fisherfolk listed on both registries will be automatically given a PHilHealth number to serve as ticket to a free health care insurance.
“This registration of fisherfolk was mandated by the Fisheries Act of 1998, but it is only during this administration that it has been funded and enforced,” Mr Alcala said.
For infrastructure, BFAR also expects to complete the establishment of 252 community fish landing centers in strategic areas nationwide to be finished by the end of 2015. These facilities are seen to reduce fisheries post-harvest losses from 25 to 18 per cent or even lower.
Undersecretary for Fisheries and concurrent BFAR national director Asis G. Perez said that the bureau carefully identified the sites where the facilities would be established using the FishR database, among other data sources.
The National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) likewise assisted in identifying target areas based on poverty incidence and volume of production, among other criteria.
Yellow card no more
With the reforms and modernization measures the government has implemented especially on IUU fishing, the European Union (EU) has lifted the “yellow card” warning from the Philippines.
This would mean a greater market potential for Philippine fish exports to the EU and the rest of the international market. The Philippine fish exports to the EU amounted to ?9.4 billion in 2013.
Overall, the country’s fishery exports value rose from $634 million in 2010 to $1.156 billion in 2013, with the biggest increase of 42.6 per cent happening from 2012 to 2013.
Amended fisheries code
According to the DA, the implementation of the amended Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 will help catalyze the government’s drive of modernizing the fisheries sector.
Under the revised law, the penalties imposed for violation of the Fisheries Code were raised from the old law’s ?10,000−?500,000 range to ?500,000−?10 million range.
Mr Perez said that with the revised fisheries law, the government re-emphasizes its call to eradicate all forms of unsustainable use of marine resources that are detrimental to the ecosystem and to the welfare of fisherfolk who depend on these resources.
"The revised law would help us protect our waters from degradation, and ensure that the access of small fishers to their municipal waters is guarded from encroachment by large-scale commercial fishers,” Mr Perez said.
Secretary Alcala believes that the government has indeed put up all the essential measures to secure sustainable and inclusive growth in the fisheries industry, where the poorest among the basic sectors—the artisanal fisherfolk—belong.
“These comprehensive mechanisms for modernized fisheries will all together become a strong, reliable backbone of a more productive and resilient sector for years to come,” Mr Alcala said.