Pass law on tuna handline operation, solons asked

Dario Lauron, chair of the Alliance of Tuna Handliners, said the passage of the proposed Handline Fishing Law, "will mean their survival as it would essentially help cut down their skyrocketing operational costs".

"We're trying to hang on but we're also desperate. This measure is very important to us as it will certainly give us some relief and at the same time set our operations on the right direction," he told reporters.

The law would set apart the handline fishing sector from the large-scale purse seine fishing operations. The proposed law has been pending at the Senate's Committee on Agriculture and Food over the last two years. This unacted proposal was among the concerns discussed by local tuna handliners at the two-day First Tuna Handliners Summit here that ended Friday.

Under the bill, handline fishing is defined as "a traditional fishing method that uses the hook and line, a passive fishing gear with a single vertical line carrying one hook and used by simply dropping the line into the water and waiting for the fish to bite."

Handline fishing would be carried out using a boat "that is a traditional fishing boat of 60 gross tons and below, with or without auxiliary small boats on board that exclusively utilizes the handline fishing method.”

The House of Representatives has passed its version, House Bill (HB) 4087, authored by South Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio.

According to the Senate record, a version of the proposed law, Senate Bill 1743, was filed by Senator Mar Roxas on August 31, 2004 and was referred to the Senate's committee on Agriculture and Food on September 21 that same year.

Custodio assured the tuna handliners that her office and the Department of Agriculture have been lobbying for proposed law's immediate passage in the Senate. "Right now it's still a status quo but we've have gained some commitments of support when it reaches the Senate floor," she said.

Custodio said the bill specified the minimum requirements for the handline fishing boat and also liberalized the requirements for the registration and licensing with respect to manning complement, safety and working conditions for the crew, communications and other equipment.

She said the documentation of the handline fishing boats would allow the fishermen to access the Pacific fishing grounds or waters of other countries that allow such operations as long as they comply with the minimum safety, manning, radio communications and other requirements set by concerned government agencies.

Lauron earlier said more than 50 percent of the estimated 2,500 tuna handline fishing boats in the city have already ceased to operate mainly due to the rising fuel prices and basic consumer goods.

Handline fishing boats are highly dependent on diesel fuel, which comprise 40 to 60
percent of the fishing cost.

Acording to the Department of Trade and Industry, the city's tuna handline fishing sector employs at least 40,000 fishermen and lands more than 30,000 metric tons of the high value tuna annually. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)