Regional Director of the BFAR (Bureau of Food and Agricultural Resources) head Andres Bolos said that like in the Yolanda and earthquake emergency situations when fisher folks would not venture to perilous seas, Bohol had found a way of sourcing fish from over-supplied areas.
BFAR is armed with freezer vans to preserve the catch.So Â it’s right that government Â doesn’t Â succumb to arm-twisting by vested interest groups.
The “fish holiday” was resorted to after President Aquino signed into law the much needed amendments to an obsolete 16-year old Philippine Fisheries Code whose lack of teeth had caused the dire situation of the fishing industry in the country.
The new Republic Act 10654 imposes a much stiffer penalty for commercial fishers who fish within the 15 kilometer radius from the coastlines from a wimpy Â P10,000 to P500,000 per violation to a whooping Â P500,000 to P 10-Million.
The vessels will also be required to place a VMS (Vessel Monitoring System) for authorities to track the vessels’ whereabouts at anytime. Moreover, now owners and not just the crew can be jailed for violation of the law.
What is the state of the fishing industry in the Philippines, anyhow?
Despite the archipelagic nature of the nation with over 7,000 islands and one of the longest coastlines in the Â world, we have expensive fish on the table and the municipal fisher folks Â with small bancas of less than 3 tons (constituting 90%) of all fishers in the country-51% of them live below the poverty line.
Visayas seas ,according to a study, is largely overfished. Â This is because commercial traders barge into the 15 kilometer radius to the disadvantage of small fisher folks. We heard of a mayor of a coastal town being Â offered P300,000 to allow these illegal fishers to fish for just three days in his area. Imagine how lucrative the business can be?
As the fish in the 15 kilometer radius gets depleted , the price, of course, of fish goes up.Economics 101. But this is not the only reason why the IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations) of the new law must be finished pronto.
The European Union which imports P9.4 billion worth of fish from the Philippine has given a “yellow card” to RP- a warning that if we continue violating “good fishing Â global principles” , they will ban RP fish from EU within six months.Â Thus Â RA 10654 is a savior of immense dollar inward sources.
Moreover, compliance means RP fish can then enter the huge European market with zero tariff for the next ten years. The issues are not as narrow as that espoused by the BAPOR. There is a world-wide clamor for food security measures- to assure fish supply continuity and sustainability- and this is one of them.
There Â are discussions hinting that municipal ordinances in circumvention of Â the new law-or allowing commercial fishers to go within the 15 kilometer radius- are being done seriously . Our take is that a national law cannot be superceded by a mere local ordinance.
We enjoin the government lawyers,therefore, Â to study the new law intently and throw the book-with the full force of the law versus the Â violators, including erring LGUs. Exceptions like these allow the gateways of corruption to be thrown Â wide open -given how lucrative the business can be.
These large commercial fishers have not only been cashing it in obscenely Â for many Â years because we have a decrepit Coast Guard system and sometimes the CLEC method could not catch them. But to think that already- many of them have been given direct and indirect subsidies Â by government by way of tax breaks on oil usage and importation of vessels.
It’s about time we give the 90% Â made of Â the poor fisher folks a break. Not only are the workers there not covered by minimum wage and SSS insurance, they can Â also be dismissed at will with no security of tenure.Â But the greatest tragedy is that the limited Â areas which their poor boats can effectively Â sail have been largely overfished by illegal fishers ,trawlers and poachers.
The result has been expensive fish on the table so that most of us may no longer enjoy the 32 kilograms of fish required for our body Â protein source per annum.
This is one case we argue for an “iron hand” from the government side. Lets bring down the cost of fish and help the 90% of the poor fisher folks make sense of their livelihood.
The Bible said :” Don’t just give fish but teach them to fish”. Yes ,Lord, but in heaven’s name- where is the fish?, the fisher folks ask, Â Shalom!
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