The Philippines to Improve Measures to Tackle Illegal Fishing Practices
By: Talal Husseini
The Philippine Government has agreed to address illegal fishing practices and encourage environmental protection through a series of new regulations following pressure from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
Sardine fishing is the largest economic contributor to the sector in the Philippines, with fishing workers catching almost 345 million kilograms of sardines, worth up to PHP7.43bn in 2015.
The country pledged to introduce certain laws under the International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas, known as the Compliance Agreement, the Agreement on Port State Measures to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF), and five conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on marine environmental protection, navigational safety and seafarer safety.
The Port State Measures (PSMs) demand compliance of all foreign fishing vessels in exchange for docking and use of port facilities. Key requirements include notification of entry and exit, use of designated ports, entry restrictions, landing and transhipment of seafood catches, regular port inspections and implementing trade sanctions against IUUF.
These measures will also assist the country in the implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Specifically, SDG 14 aims to conserve and use marine resources in line with sustainability.
International ocean conservation group Oceana Philippines vice-president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said: “This is an important step in better protecting our fisheries and our people who depend on a healthy and vibrant ocean for their livelihood and resources.”
Existing data shows that there has been a decline in sardine stocks due to increased fishing activity and environmental changes.
University of the Philippines biological sciences faculty member Dr. Wilfredo Campos said: “Sardines are being over-fished and existing policy measures are not enough to protect them. To keep up with being caught too quickly, they biologically adapt by maturing early to compensate for their population loss. They remain small, and spawn less compared to ideal, mature sardines.”
The country’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ordered a closed season from November to March for sardine fishing since 2012 in the major fishing areas of the Visayan Sea and Zamboanga Peninsula, leading to an increase in the level of sardines caught year on year.
Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) advisor Dr. Jose Ingles said that when fishing season re-opens in March, the ‘race to fish’ is damaging to the industry.
“There should be other additional measures to protect the little fish that were produced during the spawning season. These include setting catch limits and reducing fishing efforts which will help protect the juvenile sardines, especially during the ‘race to fish’ season,” he said.
“We need a participatory and science-based management framework for sardines. This will serve as a holistic guide in implementing the policies that will focus on the biological and socio-economic aspects of sardine management.”