Oceana Philippines and fisherfolks confirm that we have filed today a petition before the Supreme Court seeking the issuance of a writ of continuing mandamus to compel the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to promulgate the rules on vessel monitoring measures (VMM) that cover commercial fishing vessels with gross tonnage of 3.1 to 30. The respondents are the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) who are mandated by law to safeguard our oceans and fisheries and perform their rule-making functions.
Under the Fisheries Code, as amended by RA 10654, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), the DA-BFAR are specifically tasked to determine, within one year from the IRR’s effectivity, the appropriate vessel monitoring technology and corresponding schedule to cover commercial fishing vessels weighing 3.1 to 30 gross tons (GT) and promulgate the corresponding rules and regulations on VMM conditions, terms of reference, confidentiality, mechanics, cost, installation, approved types, and restrictions.
Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 260, which the DA-BFAR signed on October 5, 2018, does not meet the requirement of the law. It only covers vessels targeting highly migratory and straddling fish stocks. It excludes from its coverage commercial fishing vessels that weigh 3.1 to less than 30 gross tons and commonly found illegally encroaching on municipal waters. This regulation only sows confusion as it narrows down the type of vessels covered by the vessel monitoring requirement.
DA-BFAR’s failure to carry out the duties specifically enjoined by law has adversely affected the country’s marine resources, fisheries, and the livelihood of artisanal fisherfolk.
According to RA 10654, all commercial fishing vessels are covered by the vessel monitoring requirement. It is unlawful for any catcher vessel to operate and engage in fishing activity without complying with the vessel monitoring measures that the DA-BFAR is required to make. Illegal commercial fishing within municipal waters continues to compete unfairly and illegally with our artisanal fisherfolks and compounds the overfishing. Hence, we have taken this legal recourse.
We are also seeking a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) to stop the DA-BFAR from issuing new licenses or any renewal of commercial fishing vessels weighing 3.1-30 gross tons (GT) following the precautionary principle while this case is pending.