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Fishers oppose commercial fishing in municipal waters

By Mavic Conde

Eighteen fisherfolk groups from the Bicol region have joined over 700 other fishers’ organizations across the country in signing a petition paper strongly opposing House Bill 7853, which seeks to allow commercial fishing in municipal waters.

"We, as members of fisherfolk organizations, coastal communities and civil society organizations oppose House Bill 7853, which seeks to allow commercial fishing vessels to catch fish within the 15-kilometer municipal fishing ground," as it "would unfairly displace artisanal fisherfolk who depend on municipal waters for their food and livelihood," the petition initiated by Oceana Philippines read.

Of the 18 Bicol-based organizations, five are from Catanduanes, nine from Albay, and four from Camarines Sur. These include Samahan ng Maliliit na Mangingisda ng Balite in Virac, Bilbao Sectoral Association from Rapu-Rapu, and Samahang Bagotayok Lohong from Ragay, among others.

HB 7853, authored by Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia, "seeks to amend Section 18 of Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998" by allowing small and medium commercial vessels within the 10.1 to 15 kilometers of municipal waters. Under the current law, no commercial fishing vessel is allowed within these areas, except when there's an ordinance, which should be based on fishery and socio-economic sciences.

With the country's 70 percent of fish stocks already overfished, these small fisherfolk groups lamented that "allowing commercial fishers within municipal waters would worsen the exploitation of our fisheries."

According to the petition, municipal waters host important ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves. These serve as habitats and breeding grounds valued at P75 trillion, according to a 2017 Philippine blue-economy study, which the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) cited in its State of Fisheries Report.

The value includes continental shelves where ocean's plants and algae and many kinds of organisms flourish because sunlight penetrates these relatively shallow waters. This means food for fishes.

"We must ensure they are healthy and resilient to the impacts of the current climate crisis and health emergency," the petitioners said.

The signatories also urge the national government agencies to facilitate the realization of mechanisms for ensuring that municipal waters are protected from illegal fishing, "including the implementation of Fisheries Administrative Order 266 that provides the guidelines that require vessel monitoring measures and electronic reporting system for all commercial fishing vessels."

The BFAR report also sees post-harvest infrastructure (fish ports, ice plant, and cold storage) as a solution to the country's post-harvest losses amounting to P57 billion.

Both affect commercial and municipal fisheries production, which this proposed bill clearly will not be able to address.

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