More than 300 days to remove the yellow card of the Philippines

 

More than 300 days to remove the yellow card of the Philippines

TTCT - Among countries that successfully removed IUU yellow cards, the Philippines is a remarkable case when it was able to turn yellow into green in less than a year.

Commercial fishing boats are anchored off Siargao Island, a rich fishing ground for the Philippines.
Photo: Roel N. Catoto

The yellow card was applied by the EU to the Philippines in June 2014. This is a warning that weighs heavily on a multi-million dollar industry that concerns the livelihoods of 1.4 million fishermen and 3 million others in the country's fishing-related industries. It forced Philippine officials, especially fisheries and foreign affairs officials, to act.

And they acted very quickly. In April 2015, 315 days after receiving the yellow card, the Philippines was re-issued with a green card thanks to reform efforts in the fishing industry.

Amendment of the 17-year law

As soon as the card was "received", the Philippine Government and relevant ministries conducted a series of discussions on how to improve fisheries policies. The most significant action is to amend the fisheries law, which has been in place for 17 years in this country.

According to Rappler, the revised fisheries law, officially called the "Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Prevention and Elimination Act," includes five important new points.

(1) The Philippines has established catch control mechanisms to avoid overfishing with individual fishing grounds. The Fisheries Department will issue fishing permits under the rules of catch control based on reference to scientific studies or the best available evidence on fishery stocks. A monitoring, control and surveillance system is established in collaboration with multiple agencies to ensure that fisheries and fishery resources in Philippine waters are exploited, managed prudently and appropriately on a sustainable basis and conserved for the benefit of Filipino citizens.

(2) A ship monitoring system is implemented so that the authorities know the exact real-time position of the ship. Vessels must notify before entering the port according to designated channels and berths and many administrative measures such as requirements for fishing documents, fishing grounds, etc., in accordance with the Philippines' commitments to international conventions and agreements. The Philippines improves its fishing and provenance mechanisms, and strengthens cooperation with Papua New Guinea to inspect, control, and patrol the activities of its offshore fishing fleet operating outside Philippine waters. It also trains more marine guards, buys law enforcement support equipment such as boats, and buys ship monitoring equipment.

(3) Increase the penalty frame. Accordingly, illegal fishermen will have to pay a heavy price - up to millions of dollars for acts of "plundering" seafood from the ocean, destroying marine ecosystems. The Department of Fisheries and Fisheries of the Philippines also developed a national action plan against fishing that is not in accordance with IUU regulations and decided to suspend new fishing permits for 3 years to rectify.

(4) The law also defines illegal fishing or giving, receiving, collecting, buying, selling, possessing, transporting, exporting, or forwarding aquatic species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or those classified as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) or the Philippine Department of Agriculture.

(5) Establishment of a fisheries management fund to conserve, conserve, protect, manage, develop and regulate fisheries and fishery resources, research, develop and build capacity of various stakeholders including provision of scholarships, supplementary livelihoods, poverty alleviation and productivity improvement, stakeholder processes.

Catch of tuna is at the fishing port of General Santos city in the southern Philippines, August 9, 2022. Photo: benarnews.org

In its notice to remove the yellow card on April 21, 2015, the European Commission (EC) assessed that the Philippines "has made a series of reforms to upgrade the country's fisheries governance. Its legal system has been in line with international law", eligible to have the yellow card removed and receive a green card back.

Environmental and fisheries groups as well as Philippine officials are pleased with the changes and actual results achieved. The revised Fisheries Law helps maintain the wealth of marine fishery resources, protect the livelihoods of fishermen, preserve export markets and be fair to law-abiding fishermen.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) President and CEO Joel Palma said: "We commend the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and all involved for this success. We've been driving the sustainable transformation of the country's fisheries and shouldn't stop here."

The Philippines determined to continue implementing reforms in the fishing industry through the assertion of then-President Benigno Aquino III: "You can be sure that we will continue to implement reforms to avoid a similar situation in the future and strengthen the fishing industry even further. We are determined to do this because so many people depend on fisheries for their livelihood."

Risk of return

In early April 2023, the Philippine Government decided to suspend the supervision of commercial fishing vessels in the country under Fisheries Management Decision (FAO) No. 266. 

The reason is that, under this regulation issued in 2020, commercial fishing vessels operating in inland and distant waters must install a vessel monitoring system, but this requirement is issued out of administrative prudence and not because it is strictly necessary.

The suspension will be upheld pending a high court ruling on its constitutionality. Despite suspending surveillance of commercial fishing vessels in the country, relevant agencies are still "intensifying their response to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and submitting recommendations to the office of the president," according to PhilStar.

The Union of Philippine Fishing Unions said that as long as the EU side does not speak out about violations that are likely to be warned by the Philippines, the decision to suspend surveillance will help increase fish production in the country. 

However, the Philippine office of international charity Oceana warned that the decision could put the Philippines' fisheries at risk of receiving a yellow card from the EU again, affecting its access to the world's largest seafood import market.

"The decision is a step backwards, bringing us back to the open-access system that has allowed overfishing and illegal fishing to thrive for decades. This is a disaster for small-scale fishermen who cannot compete with the illegal maritime practices of commercial fishing vessel operators," said Oceana vice president Gloria Ramos.

Oceana argued that the move contradicts the country's revised fisheries code and international commitments, such as article 94 of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) which requires states to ensure effective enforcement of jurisdiction and control over their vessels. 

It also contravenes the international plan of action to prevent, prevent and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to promote sustainable fishing practices, as well as the FAO regulation of responsible fisheries.

The organization says data shows that only 58% of commercial fishing vessels in the country comply with vessel monitoring. This ratio shows that the Philippines does not appear to have made efforts to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and that monitoring of commercial fishing vessels is necessary. 

Any mismanagement can lead to overfishing, depletion of fish stocks and further damage to the nation's vulnerable marine and fisheries resources.


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