Artisanal fisheries in the Philippines.
(Photo: OCEANA / Jenn Hueting)

The Philippines recently took a much-needed step towards repairing its severely overextended fisheries: Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III allowed amendments to the 1998 Philippine Fisheries Code to lapse into law — much needed reforms that will undermine illegal fishing activity and help rebuild fisheries. It is an important precedent: The country is the fourteenth largest in terms of catching wild seafood, and has 1.3 million small scale fishers and millions more who rely on fisheries for their livelihood — and yet over 75 percent of Filipino fisheries are currently considered overfished.

The amended code increases penalties for violating fisheries laws, such as illegally fishing within 15-kilometer municipal waters reserved for smaller-scale fishermen, damaging important habitat like seagrasses and mangroves and using unlicensed fishing gear. In some instances, the amendments raise fines to as high as $45 million (PHP) for commercial fishing violations. The amendments also require vessel monitoring systems, which will identify commercial fishing boats that are operating illegally within Philippine waters and allow artisanal fishermen to maintain access to fishing grounds in their local waters. Additionally, the amendments provide funds for job training and scholarship programs for fisher folk impacted by illegal and large-scale fishing.

The Philippines avoided serious penalties by the European Union by finalizing these fishery amendments. The EU — the Philippines’ greatest export market — issued a “yellow card” warning to the Philippines in June 2014 for failing to meet its standards on sustainable fishing and allowing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing to persist, giving the Philippines six months to take action or risk losing a highly profitable trade outlet. The EU revoked the yellow card warning issued to the Philippines after the fishing nation passed amendments to address the EU’s concerns with IUU and overfishing.

Oceana has been a key supporter of the new amendments, and is also making headway with efforts to bring better management to the Tañon Strait, one of the Philippines’ richest fishing grounds and the biggest marine protected area. With allies, Oceana successfully convened the 350-member Tañon Strait Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) for the first time ever since its founding in 1998. Furthermore, thanks in part to years of petitioning by vice president for Oceana Philippines Gloria Estenzo Ramos, the Philippines’ Supreme Court recently  ruled oil and gas exploration as unconstitutional in the Tañon Strait. The ruling strengthens the protected area status of Tañon Strait and other ecologically sensitive habitats.

The Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is working on drafting rules and regulations under the amended legislation, and is expected to finish writing them by September. The amendments, which mark an early victory for Oceana’s work in the Philippines, are just the start of Oceana’s efforts to rebuild ocean abundance and ensure food security into the future. I look forward to writing to you with more updates on the implementation of these amendments.

For the oceans,

Andy Sharpless

Chief Executive Officer

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