Scientist group calls for genuine fisheries reforms on World Fisheries Day


November 22, 2018


AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People joined ranks with fisherfolk groups in calling for genuine fisheries reforms on World Fisheries Day on November 21. This day ironically coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the Philippines, which cemented several agreements, one of which includes the joint exploration for oil in the West Philippine Sea. People’s organizations expressed concerns over such agreement which lends credence to China’s illegal claims over our territorial waters. Such deal gravely disadvantages our fishing communities, such as the incident last May when Chinese vessels harassed and even extorted Filipino fishermen.

Aside from China’s encroachment of our fishing grounds, Filipino fishermen face major concerns at home. The Philippine fisheries sector is currently suffering from a continuous decline in production. Catch of important fish species has declined, reflected on the issue of galunggong importation three months ago. Local aquaculture production does not meet domestic demand, and has even shifted to becoming export-oriented. Worse, fisherfolks are confronted with so-called “development” projects that threaten their homes and livelihoods. Fishing communities in Bulacan, Cavite, Batangas, and Quezon provinces face the threat of displacement due to various government projects, notably eight reclamation projects in the pipeline with a combined area of 22,807 hectares. These projects would bring destruction to the marine environment through the deforestation of vast mangrove forest cover, causing further decrease in fish production. Resistance to these attacks on our fishermen’s livelihood have been met with impunity. To date, there have been five reported cases of extra-judicial killings of fisherfolks since last year, three of which happened only last month when the government intensified its crackdown against activists and people’s organizations.

Many problems in the fisheries sector can be attributed to the Fisheries Code of 1998 (RA 8550), which, for two decades, worsened the suffering of the Filipino fisherfolks. The Fisheries Code allowed the entry and operation of commercial fishing vessels within municipal waters – an area encompassing from 0 to 15 km from the shore. This gave commercial vessels – which employ more effective fishing gears and bigger boat capacities for large volumes of fish catch – great competitive advantage over small municipal fisherfolks. The amendment of the Fisheries Code (RA 10654), “an act aiming to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing”, further worsened the situation. Despite its conservationist nature, the amendment in fact serves the demands and interests of the international market by unfairly punishing and imposing inequitable sanctions on fisherfolks and giving little consideration to the backward state of municipal and artisanal fishing.

At the height of the galunggong crisis in August, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources announced possible amendments in the Fisheries Code - one of which would be legalizing the operation of commercial fishing vessels within municipal waters, as well as their use of superlights. This proposal is deemed to be anti-fisherfolk as it only favors commercial fishing, and not municipal and artisanal fishing. Removing the bans in the current Fisheries Code would increase the fishing effort in the already overfished Philippine waters, leading to rapid decline in production.

In celebration of the World Fisheries Day, AGHAM enjoins the Filipino people in calling for preferential fishery rights for municipal fisherfolks (i.e. dedicating the 0-15 km municipal waters for municipal and artisanal fishing only), for the reorientation of the export-oriented commercial fishing to help meet domestic demand, and for adopting sustainable rehabilitation policies that put great consideration on the livelihood of municipal and artisanal fishers. We demand the Duterte administration to put an end to bogus partnerships with foreign powers such as China that places the livelihoods and food security of Filipino people at a marked disadvantage.

For reference:

Krista Melgarejo

Deputy Secretary General, AGHAM - Diliman