FISHERIES advocates said they support the creation of a separate department for fisheries to help improve yields and develop other fishing grounds in light of the Chinese denial of access to the West Philippine Sea.
“The West Philippine Sea, by my estimate, has close to 400 to 1,000 vessels from Vietnam, China and Taiwan operating in that area catching small pelagic (fish)… because our fishers are not fishing in that area,” Asis G. Perez, convenor of food security group Tugon Kabuhayan, told the House committees on government reorganization and aquaculture and fisheries production on Wednesday.
Mr. Perez, a former director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), said creating a Fisheries and Aquatic Resources department would help rationalize and identify fishing spots within Philippine territory, and aid fisherfolk in acquiring fishing technology.
Fisheries output in the Philippine section of the South China Sea declined 7% in 2022 to 275,872 metric tons (MT), according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
Fisheries output from the disputed waters made up 6.36% of the Philippines’ total production in 2022.
Rosanna Bernadette B. Contreras, executive director of the Soccsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. said the proposed department will sharpen the focus on issues specific to the sector.
“The Department of Agriculture, as it is, has so much on its plate especially nowadays where crops and livestock production are seriously challenged,” Ms. Contreras told the panel.
“A separate department for fisheries will provide focus and more resources. It is our opinion that Philippines has not maximized the potential of the fishing industry,” she added.
Daniel Ocampo, senior campaign manager of marine conservation group Oceana, called the creation of the department “timely, (at) this stage when climate change is affecting our oceans and our fisherfolk are continuously suffering from economic losses from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.”
The Philippines losses about P62 billion a year due to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, according to a 2021 report by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and BFAR.
Mr. Ocampo noted that the proposed department should ensure law enforcement, port inspections, quarantine, and the development of fishing grounds. It must also conduct fleet operations, and intelligence-gathering, investigation and detection.
The department should also ensure inter-agency collaboration with local government units (LGUs). “It has always been an issue (on) who actually should implement the Fisheries Code because some of our maritime domain is under the jurisdiction of LGUs,” Mr. Ocampo said.
The Philippine maritime domain is estimated to be seven times larger than its land area, according to Mr. Ocampo.
Fisheries production declined 6.1% in the third quarter of the year, amounting to P58.72 billion, the PSA reported. It accounted for 14.2% of agricultural production.
Jaydrick Johnson A. Yap, president of the Southern Philippines Fishing Association in Zamboanga City, called for an amendment to allow small- and medium-sized commercial fishing vessels to operate within 15 kilometers of the shore.
“Before the pandemic, we usually explored two or three fishing grounds per night, but due to the high fuel cost, we are now limited to one fishing ground. It really affects our production,” Mr. Yap told the committee.
Palawan Rep. Jose C. Alvarez objected to the amendment, noting that it will be disadvantageous to small fisherfolk.
Ana Lourdes Cosme, senior legal associate at the UP Law Center-Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said removing the zone would be unconstitutional.
“Under the Constitution, there is preferential treatment for artisanal fisherfolk,” Ms. Cosme told the panel.
The joint committee created a technical working group to fine-tune the bill creating the new department. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz