Monday, October 27, 2014

Senate oks bill amending fisheries code

MANILA-The Senate today approved on third and final reading a bill which seeks to strengthen Philippine laws against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to impose penalties against violators for a more effective conservation and protection of the country’s marine resources.

            Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Food and author of Senate Bill 2414 otherwise known as Amending the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, said the passage of the measure develop the country’s fisheries sector, which provided direct and indirect employment to over one million people or about 12 percent of the agricultural, fishery and forestry sector of the labor force.

The bill was co-authored by Senators Loren Legarda, Ramon Revilla Jr., Manuel Lapid, Jinggoy Ejercito-Estrada, Grace Poe, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Acting Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III.

Sotto, who introduced the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Code during the 9th Congress, congratulated Villar for a well-crafted new and updated version of the Code.

            For his part, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said that the bill’s approval stresses the "need to strengthen our laws in order to preserve our marine and aquatic resources and protect the livelihood of the members of our local fishing industry, which represents 2.1% of the nation’s entire gross domestic product (GDP)."   

            Data show that the Philippines ranks sixth in fish production and ninth in aquaculture production of fish, crustaceans and mollusks, making it among the top three largest producers of aquatic plants, including seaweeds. The same data show that the country’s aqua-culture production amounts to over $1.58 billion.

            “The bill aims to level the fishing legislation at par with other countries, especially with regard to conservation measures regarding threatened aquatic species, straddling and highly migratory species and other marine resources,” Villar said in her sponsorship speech.
            Villar said the proposed amendments in the Fisheries Code would address the requirements set by the European Union (EU) for countries exporting fisheries and other marine products to its markets.

            She said EU had been conducting regular audits on the country’s fisheries sector, specifically on the compliance to international food and safety and fishery regulations.

            In its 2012 audit report on the Philippines, the EU said the country’s present laws and regulations did not have enough sanctions and disincentives against IUU fishing and gave it a yellow tag warning. Failure to act on the yellow tag may result in the blacklisting of all Philippine marine products in the European Union market.

Villar said the measure also called for the creation of a Fisheries Management Fund to be administered by the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). The Fisheries Management Fund will provide scholarship grants for children of fisher folks and fish workers in fish catch, aquaculture, fishing, and fish processing. It will also provide programs for production enhancement and poverty alleviation and assistance to fishermen in the form of shared facilities. 

Villar said the fund would be sourced from the increased penalties for illegal, unauthorized and unreported fishing.

“Twenty five percent of the funds will be allocated to BFAR for fishery law enforcement while 75 percent of the collection will be allotted to provide assistance to poor fisherfolk,” Villar said. (Olive Caunan)

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