Commercial fishing vessels, banned by law from operating within municipal waters, are taking advantage of the weakened enforcement capacity of the government in the wake of the coronavirus disease health crisis, according to an international marine conservation organization.
Oceana, an international non-government organization (NGO), has urged local authorities to intensify its monitoring and surveillance of Palawan’s municipal waters.
The group analyzed a satellite-based imaging dataset that showed that during the last week of March, there was an increased concentration of commercial fishing activities within municipal waters in various parts of the country.
Among the coastal areas cited by the group as having prevalent illegal fishing activities inside the 15-kilometer municipal waters was Palawan.
Karagatan Patrol, an online platform for reporting illegal fishing and a joint project between Oceana and the League of Municipalities, noted that between March 22 and 28, some 500 commercial fishing vessels had been tracked by satellite as operating inside municipal waters in various parts of the country.
Topping the list was Masbate, Palawan, Quezon province and Zamboanga. The towns of Magsaysay, Cuyo, and Busuanga were also among the top 10 municipalities in Luzon where illegal commercial fishing activities were detected in high quantities.
The monitoring was done with the use of a Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), a satellite-based instrument that detects night lights at sea, in some towns of Palawan, Masbate, Quezon, and Zamboanga.
“The figures showed that the threats to the ocean continue unabated with commercial fishing intrusion in the municipal waters still happening. Without the vessel monitoring technology in place, the violators cannot be tracked easily. While national and local government agencies are busy performing frontline duties to combat COVID19 crisis, it was observed that some commercial fishing operators are exploiting it as an opportunity to violate the law,” Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President, said.
Ocean has been lobbying for the implementation of RA 10654 which compels commercial fishing boats to install a tracking device so that their movement can be monitored.
With the delayed installation of a boat tracking device as a requirement for commercial fishing registration and renewal, Oceana, through karagatanpatrol.org, a free web-based application, continues to monitor commercial fishing vessels’ behavior using a satellite-based surveillance technology called the VIIRS.
“The VIIRS shows only lights emitted by fishing boats at night. There are also fishing boats that fish at day time and are not captured by the technology, hence, it is not an alternative to vessel monitoring technology,” Ramos said.
According to Ramos, Oceana has informed in writing the respective heads of the local governments of the high probability of intrusion of commercial fishing vessels in their municipal waters since Karagatan Patrol was launched in 2019.
“We appreciate those local governments and enforcement agencies for diligently conducting at-sea inspections related to COVID-19 but we also call on them to continue to monitor our municipal waters for fishery violations. Heartened by local chief executives who continue to enforce our fisheries laws amid the crisis, we request more coastal local authorities to keep their fishery enforcers alert while closely watching over cases of COVID19 among their constituents. Our municipal waters provide food for our people including many marginalized sectors, more so at this time.” said Ramos.
In response, Magsaysay Mayor Manuel Abrea said that they have already caught and penalized the commercial fishing vessels entering in their municipal waters recently.
He said that they are strictly monitoring the violators and implement the law.
“Nahuli namin ng mga pulis at members ng coast guard sila nitong March lang. Panay taga Iloilo at nakapagmulta na rin sila. Mahigpit po natin na binabantayan ‘yan. Grupo kasi ‘yan sila, tatlong catcher at may mga kasama na light boat. Mayrong nago-operate para maglaglag ng lambat. Tatlong munisipyo po kasi kami dito na magkakadikit, Cuyo, Magsaysay at Agutaya, baka nakakapasok lang talaga dito sa amin. Mayron d’yan [commercial fishing vessel] na dalawang beses na rin namin nahuli,” he said.
Busuanga Information Officer Jonathan Dabuit told Palawan News in a separate interview that they will look into the report of the Oceana and sent a request letter from the authorities to check the recorded details of the commercial fishing vessels entered in the municipal water.
“Una, we will write sa Oceana Philippines tungkol accuracy ng kanilang data, kung ano ang basis but we also thanked them na nagbibigay sila ng ganitong data. Secondly, susulat kami sa Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police Maritime and all coastal barangays to intensify the monitoring against the illegal fishing pa rin. We will also ask the authorities kung may data rin ba sila kasi kung municipal waters ‘yan ay napakalapit kung hindi nakikita,” he said.
He also called the authorities to intensify the effort in monitoring the illegal fishing activities in the Calamian Group of Islands considering that they are in the northernmost tip of Palawan.
Dabuit said that there are two Philippine Coast Guard Sub-stations in Busuanga, one in the mainland and one in island barangay.
He said that the main station of PCG is located in Coron town as well as the PNP Maritime Group.
“Naiintindihan naman po natin ang kinakaharap ng gobyerno. Ang call po natin ay sana mapalakas ng ating coast guard ang kanilang monitoring and apprehension considering na open sea na po dito, hindi natin alam kung talagang tagadito lang o baka taga ibang probinsya talaga ang mga pumapasok dito. Wala nga din pong maritime dito, so, ‘yon po sana ang request natin,” Dabuit added.