Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said that local government officials who could not stop illegal fishing until the end of June will face administrative charges.
The Agriculture Secretary said that he will take the issue directly to President Rodrigo Duterte, who committed to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July.
“The government is serious on its campaign to stop illegal fishing activities across the nation,” Piñol said in a meeting with fisherfolks during the first “Biyaheng Bukid” visit at the Dalahican Fish Port in Lucena City. He said that they will also launch a “shame campaign” on coastal communities where illegal fishing persists.
Coastal cities and municipalities have jurisdiction over the management of municipal waters which are within 15 kilometers from the coastline, including biologically important near-shore areas where mangroves, seagrass, and coral reefs thrive. Near-shore areas serve as the nesting and breeding ground for fish which are often used for human consumption such as sardines, groupers, and snappers.
Agriculture Undersecretary and Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Eduardo Gongona has also declared in a press conference last year that enforcement of fishery laws is the key to improve fish production in the country.
Meanwhile, Oceana lauded the move of the Agriculture officials, and reiterated the urgent need for science-based policies and strengthened law enforcement to protect critical marine habitats and important fishing grounds to bring back fisheries abundance in the country.
“This is much welcome news at the start of the year from Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. The Philippines is the ‘center of the center’ of marine biodiversity in the world. We are among the top fish producing countries worldwide, and many Filipinos, especially in the municipal waters, depend on a healthy and vibrant ocean for food and livelihood. Strong political leadership at the national and local levels, and vigorous collaboration with stakeholders in implementing our laws are necessary in fighting and deterring illegal fishing,” said lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice-President for Oceana Philippines.
More than 50 million Filipinos are dependent on fish for food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The fisheries sector employs almost three million fishers, 70 percent of which are municipal fisherfolks.
The Philippines also ranks 11th in the world as the top producer of wild-caught fish, feeding about three billion people worldwide.
It is alarming that as the BFAR reported, 10 out of 13 major fishing grounds surveyed in the Philippines are already overfished.
For Oceana, irresponsible fishing has reduced many wild fish populations to historically low levels right at the moment when the world needs its oceans more than ever.
The DA through BFAR has deployed floating assets to enforce fisheries laws and apprehend violators. Last December 25, DA-BFAR apprehended a commercial fishing vessel engaged in illegal fishing at the municipal waters of Bantayan Island, Cebu. Bantayan Island is part of Tañon Strait, one of the largest marine protected areas in the Philippines and home to 14 of the 28 species of whales and dolphins in the Philippines. Tañon Strait also serves as a critically important fishing ground for municipal fishers.
The Department of Agriculture undertook to recommend the review of declarations of closed season by the local government units, continuous support to the campaign of the local government against illegal fishing, and a strengthened cooperation between DA and the local government units to stop illegal fishing operations.