RP upbeat on nego with Indonesia for new fishing pact

Undersecretary Virgilio Leyretana, chair of the Mindanao Economic and Development Council, said said recent talks with his counterparts have turned out positive and may lead to possible agreements later on.

"Maganda ang usapan (the talks were positive) although it was quite tedious," he said in a meeting with members of Region 12’s (Southwestern Mindanao) Regional Development Council in Alabel, Sarangani Monday morning.

Leyretana said he met with Indonesian officials several days ago as part of the continuing negotiations.     

The Philippines hopes to sign a new fishery agreement with Indonesia after it failed to get a long-term extension for the bilateral agreement it forged in 2000. The agreement expired in December 2005 but Jakarta agreed to a one year extension.

Indonesia reportedly allowed the one year extension on condition that Philippine vessels fishing in its waters would carry Indonesian flags.

Under the bilateral fishing agreement, Philippine tuna fleets were allowed to "catch tuna and tuna-like species within the Indonesian Exclusive Economic Zone."

It provided licenses to the Philippines for 75 catcher vessels, 150 fish carriers, 20 long liners, 300 light boats, and 10 single purse seiners, and allowed access to the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas of the Indonesian EEZ. It also provided offloading and re-supply access to 10 Indonesian ports.

Leyretana said the expiration of the bilateral fishing agreement with Indonesia has become a major concern in terms of sustainability for the local tuna industry since its traditional fishing grounds fall under  Indonesia's territorial waters.

Since the one year extension of the bilateral agreement ended last December, local tuna fishing companies have been operating in Indonesian waters through joint-venture arrangements with Indonesian fishing companies based in Tahuna and Bitung in North Sulawesi.

But as a consequence, he said Philippine-registered fishing vessels were forced to register with Indonesia  and carry its flag.

Leyretana said this matter has triggered issues on the status of the Filipino crew members of the fishing vessels since they are also under the mandate of the Department of Labor and Employment.

"We're really cracking our heads on how to fix this since the entire tuna industry is at stake here," he said.

He added that the outcome of the negotiations would determine the future of the 150,000 people directly employed in the industry and the downstream businesses. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)