Custodio, author of the proposed Handline Fishing Law or House Bill 4067, said Villar earlier asked her for a list of urgent House bills that have remained pending at the committee level in the Senate so the senators could act on them.
“I endorsed the tuna handling bill as one of our top priorities,” Custodio told MindaNews.
HB 4067 defines commercial handline fishing and prescribes the requirements for the registration of handline fishing boats, amending in effect Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.
The proposed law, which has been pending at the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food over the last two years, was among the main concerns discussed by tuna industry players during the recent 8th National Tuna Congress here.
In a resolution, congress delegates urged the Senate to fast-track the passage of the bill to help stabilize the operations of the more than 2,500 tuna handline fishing boats from the city and the neighboring areas.
The resolution stressed that the fisheries code failed to differentiate the requirements of the handline fishing and handline fishing boat from that of purse seine fishing.
This forced the tuna handline fishermen to comply with the stringent requirements set in the rules and regulations of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), National Telecommunications Commission and the Philippine Coastguard, it said.
MARINA and BFAR initially agreed during negotiations with local officials and tuna handline fisherfolk to relax some of the burdensome regulations and procedures for handline fishing, specifically on licensing fees, but it was temporary in nature.
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."
It is carried out using a handline fishing 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 bill specifies the minimum requirements for the handline fishing boat and also liberalizes the requirements for the registration and licensing with respect to manning complement, safety and working conditions for the crew, communications and other equipment.
"The documentation of the handline fishing boats would allow the handline fisherfolk 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," Custodio said.
Col. Alejandro Escano, a representative of Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. who chairs the Agriculture and Food Committee, told tuna congress participants that the committee was keen on passing the proposed law before the election period.
He said Magsaysay acknowledged the importance of the handling fishing bill as it would help direct the future of the handline fishing sector and the entire local tuna industry.
The House of Representatives passed HB 4067 on June 6, 2005 and transmitted it to the Senate on July 25. The Senate officially received the transmittal on August 2.
According to Senate records, a version of the proposed law, Senate Bill 1743, was filed by Senator Mar Roxas in August 2004 and was referred to the agriculture and food committee the following month.
According to industry records, the tuna handline fishing sector unloads at least 30,000 metric tons of tuna annually valued at P4.5 billion.
The sector employs around 40,000 fishermen from the city and nearby Sarangani province. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)