‘Make BFAR a department’

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/28 September) — It’s high time for Congress to upgrade the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) into a department to sustain the development and competitiveness of the country’s fishery sector, tuna industry players here said in a resolution.

The resolution noted that the fisheries sectors in other countries are being managed by departments or ministries.

BFAR is attached to the Department of Agriculture.

Marfenio Y. Tan, president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc., said that because congressional action would take time, the national government should meantime appoint a fulltime Undersecretary for Fisheries.

According to the resolution, a copy of which was sent to the Office of the President and Congress, the Philippine fishing industry, with tuna as a major export earner, contributes significantly to the country’s economy and provides direct employment to over a million Filipinos.

The fishing industry contributes four percent to the Gross Domestic Product and a 19% share of gross-value added in agriculture, industry records said.

BFAR Director Malcolm I. Sarmiento Jr. could not be reached for comments on the move of the tuna industry players.

Tan said that with a fisheries department, the need to forge fishing agreements with other nations would be given direct attention, without having to pass the scrutiny of the agriculture secretary as is the case over the years in policy-making decisions.

Forging bilateral fishing agreements with other tuna-rich countries have been cited as one of the solutions to the purse seine ban imposed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that has affected the local fishing industry.

Bayani B. Fredeluces, SFFAII executive director, urged the national government to hammer out fishing access agreements with Palau and other Pacific island nations to allow the local purse seine operators to fish in their waters while the ban is in effect or even after it has expired.

Calls to make BFAR a department came amidst mounting concerns on the depleting marine resources in the country as well as in neighboring international waters.

For two years starting last January 1, the WCPFC has closed at least two pockets of the high seas in the Pacific Ocean to purse seine fishing, which normally employs fish aggregating devices to catch tuna stocks.

The sanction was in line with the Conservation and Management Measure for Bigeye and Yellow Fin Tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, which was approved during the Fifth Regular Session of the WCPFC in Busan, Republic of Korea on December 8 to 12, 2008. (MindaNews)