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Small Fisherfolk Are Battling Hard Against This Piece of Legislation

We might soon see commercial fishing vessels in our favorite dive spots.
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Filipino fisherfolk are up in arms as a new piece of legislation threatens their only source of livelihood. House Bill 7853 seeks to allow commercial fishing vessels to exploit marine resources within municipal waters, which is 15 kilometers from the shoreline. Small-scale fisherfolk have protected these waters for generations. 

The proposed measure, which is authored by deputy speaker Pablo John Garcia from Cebu, seeks to expand the possible area of operations of commercial fishing vessels, as defined by law, within municipal waters.

Over 60 Percent of Philippine Waters Overfished

According to Oceana, an NGO that protects the world’s oceans, HB 7853 is dangerous. “Over 60 percent of our waters are overfished. Allowing commercial fishing in municipal waters, which is the breeding grounds of fish, will hamper the growth of fish populations,” Oceana said in a statement. “It would also increase fishing pressure beyond sustainable levels.”

Reefs and Corals in Danger

According to Oceana, most of the country’s precious reefs and corals are located within 15 kilometers of the coast. HB 7853, which seeks to allow fishing within 8.1 kilometers of the coast, will affect conservation efforts on reefs and corals. 

“Programs that conserve marine habitats are located within municipal waters. These may be destroyed by commercial fishing methods and gears.”

The Philippines’ most productive marine areas are located in municipal waters. Not only are these areas the sources of livelihood for small fisherfolk, but these are also areas that attract tourism. Dive sites in Malapascua, Amanpulo, Donsol, Anilao, and Palawan are in danger of becoming fishing grounds for large vessels that trawl seabed. 

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Fisherfolk Groups Show Unprecedented Solidarity

In an unprecedented show of solidarity, Philippine fisherfolk and marine conservation groups have united against HB 7853. 

The groups are Oceana, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama, Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), and Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Mangingisda (Pangisda-Pilipinas). 

They call on the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the National Fisheries and Research Development Institute to oppose HB 7853.

Matapos magsakripisyo ng mga maliliit na mangingisda upang mapanatiling malusog ang municipal water, bubuksan nila ito sa komersyal? Hindi ito makatarungan,” said Pablo Rosales, chairperson of Pangisda Pilipinas.

(“After all the sacrifices made by small fisherfolk to protect municipal waters, they want to open it up for commercial fishing? This is unjust.”)

Attempting to Legalize Something Illegal

According to Oceana, the Fisheries Code of the Philippines prohibits commercial fishing within municipal waters.

“HB No. 7853 attempts to legitimize an otherwise prohibited act. As a general rule, the amended Fisheries Code prohibits commercial fishing within municipal waters.”

The Fisheries Code sets aside a 15-kilometer boundary from the shoreline as fishing grounds for small-scale fisherfolk only. This is also done so that aquatic species have safe spaces within Philippine waters where they can grow. This is also the reason why the Philippines remains the world’s most biodiverse country in terms of marine ecology.

Presently, numerous incursions by commercial fishing vessels within municipal waters are left unchecked. As many as 6,000 commercial fishing vessels are reported each month based on satellite data published by Oceana. 

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“This is a pervasive violation of the law and the preferential rights of municipal fisherfolk access to municipal waters that has been going on for decades,” says Oceana. 

An online petition was launched to encourage Congress to junk HB 7853.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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