Oceana and stakeholders oppose Palace order halting vessel monitoring implementation
Lack of vessel monitoring implementation puts Philippines at risk of another EU yellow card warning
Press Release Date: April 4, 2023
Together with fisherfolk leaders, a local chief executive and an eminent fisheries scientist, international advocacy organization Oceana declared during a press conference on Tuesday its objection to a memorandum issued by the President through the Executive Secretary, directing concerned government agencies to halt the implementation of vessel monitoring for commercial fishing vessels in the country.
“We urge the Philippine government to reconsider its decision to suspend the implementation of the Rules requiring vessel monitoring mechanisms (VMM) for all commercial fishing vessels or Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 266 and prioritize the sustainable management of our fisheries. We have to comply with the Constitution and the amended Fisheries Code to protect our marine wealth, the livelihoods of our artisanal fisherfolk, and mainstream transparency, traceability, and accountability in ocean governance. Said directive is regressive and brings us back to an open access system which has caused overfishing and illegal fishing to thrive for decades and a bane to our small scale fisherfolk who are deprived of the marine resources and suffer from the encroachment of our municipal waters by commercial fishing vessel operators,” said Oceana Vice President Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos.
“Are we ready for another yellow card warning and looming threat of losing access to our biggest market for fish and seafood products such as the EU?” she added.
Ramos was reacting to the memorandum issued by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on March 13, 2023 addressed to the Department of Agriculture (DA), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to suspend the implementation of Fisheries Administrative Order 266 using the principle of ex abundanti cautela or “from an abundance of care.”
The reason behind the suspension: the principle of respect for the three branches of government since the Supreme Court has not issued its final resolution on the constitutionality of FAO 266.
This latest order reverses an earlier memorandum issued last February 2, 2023, in which the DA and the BFAR were ordered to implement FAO 266 nationwide in accordance with laws, rules, and regulations and in line with the recommendations of the OSG in its letter to the BFAR last September 28, 2022, except the three commercial fishing operators with a pending case.
“Malaking insulto po sa nag-attend ng consultation para maipasa ang FAO 266. Nakakasama po ng loob dahil kasama po ako sa nag depensa na dapat ma-implement na ang VMM. Sayang po ang malaking gastos ng government dyan,” said Martha Cadano, representative of artisanal fisherfolk from Eastern Visayas in the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council.
In its position paper, Oceana detailed their objections to the memorandum for being:
- regressive and contradicts the Amended Fisheries Code and international commitments;
- inconsistent with Philippine obligations under international agreements, including Article 94 of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), which requires states to take measures to ensure the effective exercise of their jurisdiction and control over their vessels;
- a violation of the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU), which aims to promote sustainable fishing practices by ensuring that all fishing vessels are registered and monitored;
- a contradiction of Article 11(1)(11) of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which calls for the implementation of appropriate measures to ensure the traceability of fish and fisheries products;
- a hindrance in using an effective tool that allows enforcers to monitor illegal fishing activities; and
- a violation of the duty of the Executive Department to implement the laws.
Ramos further explained that the suspension of FAO 266 would result in the country’s failure to strengthen the monitoring, control and surveillance system in its waters – leading to overfishing, depletion of fish stocks, and further harm to the country’s already vulnerable and declining fisheries and marine resources.
“When the EU lifted the yellow card warning on the Philippines in 2015, it was due to our commitment to undertake extensive reforms to deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing through the enactment of RA 10654 which contained strong measures to fight this. We have since institutionalized new traceability regulations through the Amended Fisheries Code and promised vessel monitoring compliance for Philippine fishing vessels operating in areas regulated by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, and even national and foreign vessels fishing in Philippine waters,” she explained.
“But it has been eight years since, and we have failed to fulfill our promise to ensure real-time vessel monitoring mechanism (VMM) coverage. With only 58% reported compliance by commercial fishing vessel operators, which should have been fully complied by 2021 under FAO 266, the Philippines has fallen short in deterring IUU activities because it lacks transparency and traceability on our fishing vessels and their behavior. With this latest order from Malacañang, we have proven that we have not learned our lessons from the first yellow card warning from the EU. And it is crucial that we learn from the past and take decisive action to ensure the long-term viability of our fisheries and the welfare of our Filipino fishermen,” Ramos concluded.
Meanwhile, data from online boat detection app Karagatan Patrol shows the pervasive presence of apparent commercial fishing vessels in municipal waters, areas which are reserved for the preferential access and use of artisanal fisherfolk. It is through Karagatan Patrol’s use of Visible Infrared Imagine Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) satellite data that Oceana, enforcers and other stakeholders are able to piece together information on apparent illegal fishing in the country while vessel monitoring measures (VMM) implementation is not fully complied with.
Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources. (END)
For More Information:
Joyce Sierra, Communications Manager, Oceana
Mobile: 09178214430 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org