MANILA - Three Navotas fishermen and an international NGO on Friday asked the Supreme Court to compel government to issue rules on the monitoring of commercial fishing vessels, saying unregulated fishing has diminished their catch, hence, their income.
The fishermen and Oceana Philippines International urged the high court to compel the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to enforce monitoring rules for fishing vessels weighing 3.1 to 30 gross tons.
Fishermen Arnulfo Febria, Edgardo Leongson and Bernardo Rondon Jr. filed a petition for a continuing mandamus to oblige the DA and BFAR to draft rules for Vessel Monitoring Measures (VMM) as mandated under the amended Fisheries Code and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR).
The VMM is a system for tracking the location of vessels.
The fishermen complained that unregulated and unmonitored operations of commercial fishing vessels have led to dwindling catch as these big vessels allegedly encroach into municipal waters reserved for small-time fishermen.
Municipal waters refer to the body of water within 15 kilometers from a coastline.
“Bumababa na po ang naging kita namin, 'yung huli namin na isda. Tapos ‘yung mga species ng dati naming nahuhuling isda, nabawasan na rin po,” Febria told reporters after the filing of the petition.
(Our income and catch are decreasing. There is also less variety of fish that we catch.)
Oceana Philippines International, an NGO committed to fighting illegal fishing and protecting marine habitat through the use of scientific tools such as vessel monitoring technology, said commercial fishing in municipal waters is illegal.
“Encroachment by commercial fishers in municipal waters had been going on since forever, despite being declared illegal under our laws, contributing significantly to overfishing in two-thirds of our principal fishing grounds,” Oceana Vice President Gloria Estenzo Ramos said in a statement.
Named respondents were Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol and Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona, who is concurrent DA undersecretary for fisheries and BFAR national director.
The petition accused DA and BFAR of inaction on the 2015 amendment of the Fisheries Code and its IRR, which required BFAR to determine the appropriate vessel monitoring technology and the schedule to include in its coverage vessels weighing 3.1 to 30 gross tons.
The BFAR came out with a fisheries administrative order on October 5, 2018 but the petitioners’ counsel, lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno, said the order does not comply with the law as it covers only vessels more than 30 gross tons in weight.
“Yang 3.1 to 30 gross tons na commercial fishing vessels, ‘yan ‘yung nagko-compete sa municipal fisherfolks," he told reporters.
(Commercial fishing vessels that weigh between 3.1 to 30 gross tons are the ones that compete with municipal fisherfolks.)
In addition to the plea for a continuing mandamus, the petitioners also asked the high court to issue a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) to stop BFAR from issuing new licenses or any renewal to commercial fishing vessels weighing 3.1 to 30 gross tons.
A TEPO is an order that directs a person or a government agency to perform or desist from performing an act in order to protect, preserve or rehabilitate the environment.