GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 29 Oct) – The national government will prioritize the country’s major fishing grounds, including tuna-rich waters, for its enhanced enforcement operations against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.
Asis Perez, Department of Agriculture undersecretary for fisheries, said they are currently working on the deployment of fishery enforcers in key fishing areas to facilitate the rollout of fresh regulations that were set in Republic Act (RA) 10654.
RA 10654, or the “Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing,” amended RA 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.
The measure, which lapsed into law last February, mainly sets stricter policies and regulations to effectively curb IUU fishing as well as hefty penalties for violators.
Perez said the enforcement operations will initially focus on the tuna-rich waters off the Surigao provinces and parts of the Moro Gulf, Celebes Sea, Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi seas, Benham Rise as well as the West Philippine Sea.
He said it will later cover the sardine and herring fishing areas off the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Davao Gulf.
“These are our top priorities in terms of conservation, development and protection,” he said in a briefing on Tuesday on the implementing rules and regulations of RA 10654 that officially became effective last Oct. 10.
The briefing was among the highlights of the national media conference hosted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) at the City Garden Suites in Ermita, Manila.
Perez, who is also national director of BFAR, said they included the Benham Rise, which is located in the country’s eastern seaboard, in the priority enforcement areas to curb the rampant illegal fishing activities there.
Citing satellite images, he said they detected extensive fishing activities in the area by foreign fishermen.
“Our vessels and enforcers are now ready to patrol these areas and reclaim them for our own fishermen,” he said.
Lawyer Benjamin Tabios Jr., BFAR assistant national director, said the enforcement operations will involve their 85 patrol vessels.
He said 71 of these are 30-footer patrol boats while 16 are 11-meter and 30-meter monitoring, control and surveillance vessels.
“We will be augmenting these with 27 new 42-footers that are due for delivery next year,” he told MindaNews.
The official said the agency will also acquire 10 new 50-footers and two 50-meter vessels.
Tabios said some 290 enforcers have already completed their training, which covered 90 days for the basic course, 30 days for boat operations and 15 days for specialized courses.
He said they are set to hire more enforcers to complete their manpower target of 600.
“The hiring and training process is very stringent as these enforcers will eventually carry guns in their assignments,” he added.