Dialogue sought as Fisheries Code undergoes review
SAN ANTONIO, Zambales, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., during his State of the Nation Address on Monday, asked lawmakers to amend the Fisheries Code to “incorporate and strengthen science-based analysis and determination of fishing areas.”
“We will seek the support of Congress to amend the code to guarantee sustainable development of our fisheries sector in harmony with environmental balance,” the President said.
But small fishermen in Zambales province are hoping that the government will hear their sentiments before lawmakers review the 25-year-old law governing the management and conservation of the nation’s fisheries.
Leonardo Cuaresma, chair of the Federated Association of Fisherfolk in Masinloc town, said the government must conduct a dialogue with fishermen “because [we] are the ones who can suggest what is appropriate to protect the fisheries sector and the country’s natural resources.”
“We are desperate because there is no direct plan in the West Philippine Sea as to what services the government will provide to protect the fishermen because the fishermen are the first to be harmed here,” Cuaresma told the Inquirer.
The international organization Oceana and militant fisherfolk group Pamalakaya said they were concerned that any amendments to the code, also known as Republic Act No. 8550, could further open up municipal waters to commercial fishing activities.
“It is obvious that the announcement was the result of the continuous lobbying of big-fishing firms to operate within the municipal waters,” said Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap in a statement.
“This will certainly benefit owners who will be institutionally allowed to conduct large-scale fishing inside the 15-kilometer municipal waters intended for small-scale fisherfolk.”
Hicap was referring to earlier proposals to compromise on key provisions of the code, which was already amended in 2015 to further eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Last May, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources proposed a compromise on Section 16 of Republic Act No. 10654 which defines the jurisdiction of local government units, and Section 18, which opens the use of municipal waters to commercial fishing activities.
“There can be no harmonization between the municipal fishers and commercial fishing vessels because the latter outcompetes with the traditional method of fishing,” Hicap said.
Such amendments, according to Oceana spokesperson Liza Osorio, was a “blatant disregard” of the 1987 Constitution because the proposed amendments “undermine the preferential rights of subsistence fisherfolk to the use of local marine and fishing resources in municipal waters.”
Instead of overhauling the code anew, Osorio said the government must prioritize the implementation of transparency measures that are critical in combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
This includes the installation of vessel monitoring measures on commercial fishing vessels and electronic reporting system of fish catch that should be publicly accessible.