REPRESENTATIVES of more than 100 organizations held a summit at the Ateneo de Manila University on October 19 and 20 to discuss the implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) of the recently amended Fisheries Code, or Republic Act (RA) 10654.
The new law imposes stiffer penalties on fishermen, and tightens the rules against illegal and unregulated fishing.
Among the participants were fishermen’s organizations, academics, marine scientists, environmentalists, local government units (LGUs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all over the Philippines.
The summit became the first opportunity for the backers of RA 10654 to explain the astronomical increases in fines for commercial-fishing corporations found to have violated the new code.
Commercial fishermen have already launched “fish holidays” to show their disenchantment with RA 10654, which they claimed was railroaded to curry favor with the European Union, whose members were responsible for the depletion of fish stocks in Greenland, North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The participants tackled the IRRs approved by Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala for the first time, with some parties amenable to discussing possible amendments to address the concerns of both commercial-fishing corporations and municipal fishermen.
Many of those favoring the higher fines were groups like Greenpeace, NGOs for Fisheries Reform and other organizations aligned with environmental causes, all of whom have reaffirmed their commitment to implement the law, which they hope would increase the fish stocks in the country.
However, as explained by University of the Philippines (UP) researcher Remelyn I. de Ramos in a lecture at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) in March, the biomass in 10 of 13 traditional fishing grounds has dwindled to critical levels for both demersal and pelagic species.
Climate change has much to do with this development, de Ramos said, and explained that ocean acidification also limits the expansion of planktons, which is the basic food for fish, while heating of surface water and bleaching of corals push fish out of their reef sanctuaries.
De Ramos, a researcher at the UP Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI), also said the dumping of pollutants into the sea not only cause fish kills but also cause the deterioration of water quality in areas that should be protected, like the Verde Island.
Searca director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said de Ramos’s lecture and the national stock assessment project of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) goaded the Department of Agriculture (DA) to do something drastic to shore up whatever is left of the national fish stock. The summit, organizers said, sought to strengthen the fisheries network for sustainable-fisheries management, and emphasized the need for key fisheries stakeholders to understand RA 10654 to effectively enforce the law and monitor its implementation.
It also underscored the need to allow the recovery of the Philippine seas from decades of degradation and overfishing, as up to 90 percent of the Philippine population depends on the sea for jobs and food.
Greenpeace and other groups claimed that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) have brought havoc on the once-abundant fishing grounds of the Philippines, not knowing that it was only in the past two decades that many food fish species started to dwindle in volumes.
A report made by the National Stock Assessment Program of the DA and the BFAR revealed that 10 out of 13 fishing grounds are already heavily exploited, leading to the phenomenal decline of fish catch.