Senate OKs handline fishing law

“The future of the handline tuna industry is looking bright because [once the bill is signed into law by President Gloria Arroyo] it eases the limitations set upon us,” said Roger Lim Sr., vice chairman of the Alliance of Tuna Handliners.

The approval by the senators of the bill on Monday caught industry leaders by “sweet surprise” as it was only Wednesday last week that members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food approved the provisions of the proposed law.

With the a special law, Lim said the handline tuna sector would eventually become a “sunshine industry” and that it would finally push the government to finally helping marginalized handline fishermen.

The alliance is composed of over 2,500 large pump boats that employ at least 40,000 fishermen, with an annual landing catch of over 30,000 metric tons of high value tuna worth P4.5 billion, industry records showed.

Neil Cachuela, head of the Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) office in this city, said the Senate secretariat informed them that the bill hurdled the third reading during the Upper Chamber’s plenary session on Monday (December 4).

GEM, a program funded by the United States Agency for International Development, has been supporting moves for a special law on handline fishing dusting before the Senate for two years now.

Cachuela said stakeholders of the tuna industry expressed optimism the bicameral conference for the proposed law will be tackled by members of the Upper and Lower Houses before the end of the year.

“We have been lobbying for this special law for so long time already. It’s a relief that the Senate finally approved it. At last, it will address the concerns of the tuna handline sector when Malacanang finally signs it into law,” said Bayani Fredeluces, executive director of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc., said

The House version (Handline Fishing Law or House Bill 4067) has been approved earlier through the sponsorship of South Cotabato First District Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio.

Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said the Senate approval of the bill “is an important step towards promoting competitiveness, sustainability and development of the tuna fishing industry, the bulk of which s concentrated in this city dubbed as the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines.”

“By giving weight to traditional fishing practices and small fishermen by defining handline commercial fishing and handline commercial vessel, this piece of legislation could contribute significantly in our desire to make our handline fishing and its allied industries highly competitive in the global market,” Magsaysay said in his speech last week.

Citing the Fisheries Code of 1998, Magsaysay noted that handline fishing vessels are classified as small commercial fishing vessels.

However, he added, the rules and regulations prescribed by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) do not cover simple vessels, which is the current practice in the handline fishing sector.

In addition, he said, the handline fishing gear and fishing vessels operating on a commercial scale could not be issued a license by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Magsaysay said their measure proposes that the registration, inspection, manning and documentation of handline fishing boats as flag boats shall be with the MARINA, while the licensing and related documentation of the boats as fishing boats shall be with the BFAR.

Mr. Fredeluces said the special law seeks to lessen the manning requirements among handline fishing boats.

“Once the law is approved, boat captains would no longer be required to have a license,” he explained.

Dario Lauron, chairman of the Alliance of Tuna Handliners, said the passage of a tuna handline law would mean a lot to the handline tuna players as it also seeks to give weight to traditional fishing practices and small fishermen by defining handline commercial fishing boat and commercial net fishing vessel.