Palace halts commercialfishing vessels monitoring


THE Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) has suspended the Vessel Monitoring Measures (VMM) for commercial fishing vessel, sparking a warning from concerned groups that this puts the Philippines at risk of another yellow-card warning from the European Union.

The suspension order was meant to strengthen the government’s response against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, according to DA-BFAR.

As a concrete measure to comply with the order, the DA-BFAR, as the lead agency, shall convene the Philippine Committee (PhilCom) against IUU fishing toward the end of the month.

The agency noted the vital role of the PhilCom, as an interagency group, in formulating more holistic approaches in fighting IUU fishing.

However, environmental groups led by Oceana on Tuesday warned the government of another EU yellow card warning following the Malacañang order deferring the implementation of vessel monitoring for commercial fishing vessels in the country.

At a hastily called press conference, Oceana led by the group’s vice president Gloria Estenzo-Ramos urged the Marcos administration to reconsider its decision to suspend the implementation of the rules that require vessel monitoring mechanism or VMM for all commercial fishing vessels under Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 266.

“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?” Ramos asked.

Ramos was referring to an order handed down by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on March 13, 2023 addressed to the DA-BFAR, Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Specifically, it is meant 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 on 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 OSG’s recommendations in its letter to the BFAR, last September 28, 2022, except the three commercial fishing operators with a pending case.

Vessel monitoring devices or transponders are supposed to be installed in every commercial fishing vessel in the Philippines to track their behavior. Such is one way of ensuring that the commercial fishing vessel is fishing only in waters where they are allowed to do so.

“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,” Ramos said.

Ramos said the Philippines need to comply with the Constitution and the amended Fisheries Code to protect the country’s marine wealth, the livelihoods of artisanal fisherfolk, and mainstream transparency, traceability, and accountability in ocean governance.

According to Ramos, the Palace 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.”

The DA-BFAR said, however, remains committed to enforce Republic Act 10654 or the Act to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing and all other relevant laws to ensure that the country’s fisheries and aquatic resources are utilized, managed, developed, and sustained for the benefit and enjoyment exclusively of Filipino citizens, in line with the government’s push for food security.

In February, the BFAR also announced the lifting of the fishing ban in the Visayan Sea.

The BFAR said no closed fishing season violators were reported.