File photo by Oceana/Steve De Neef

Oceana Philippines, an internationally-linked organization dedicated to protecting and restoring Philippine oceans, reported Tuesday to the Provincial Board (PB) that Puerto Princesa City and 13 towns in Palawan are included in their Top 50 list of areas whose municipal waters are being violated by the entry of large commercial fishing vessels.

Marlito Guidote, external and government relations director of Oceana Philippines, made the report during the question hour of the PB’s regular session, claiming they have monitored and detected intense and super lights within the 15-kilometer coastal waters of the city and the 13 municipalities.

By ranking, these are Cuyo, Linapacan, Araceli, Magsaysay, Coron, Balabac, Puerto Princesa City, Taytay, Bataraza, Busuanga, Narra, El Nido, and Aborlan.

Guidote said they were able to detect the entry of large commercial fishing vessels in municipal waters by using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).

The VIIRS is “a sensor which collects satellite imagery and radiometric measurements of the land, atmosphere, cryosphere, and oceans in the visible and infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.”

Using VIIRS, Guidote said they can detect commercial fishing vessels entering municipal waters, which is not allowed under Section 44 of Republic Act 10654 of the Fisheries Code of the Philippines.

Guidote said the VIIRS only detects “strong or superlights”, which is commonly used by commercial fishing vessels. not small boats.

“Hindi nito na-de-detect ang mga maliliit na boats or kahit mga barko kasi nga wala naman silang ilaw na katulad ng mga commercial fishing vessels,” Guidote said.

He also explained that the Philippine government and other agencies, such as the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (US NOAA) has been using the VIIRS data to serve as leads in detecting illegal fishing activities within municipal waters.

Guidote also clarified in the question hour of the Provincial Board that the purpose of the list is not to anger concerned municipal government officials or accuse of them of neglect but only to alert them and other enforcement agencies about the probable presence of large commercial fishing vessels in the municipal waters.

It can be recalled recently that four mayors expressed disappointment regarding Oceana’s 10 Illegal Fishing Hotspots with their municipalities included on the list.

“Kahit sabihin na may ordinance nga sila that allows commercial fishing vessel basta hindi lang bababa sa 10.1 kilometers, marami pa rin ang percentage na ang mga vessel na ito ay nasa 0-10 kilometers from the shore. They violated their own ordinance, it’s a violation pa rin,” he said.

Guidote also clarified that they did not use the term “illegal fishing hotspots” but they called it “boat detection hotspots” for 2018” but there is a probability that these fishing vessels are illegal.

“We did not use the term illegal, but it has a probability that they are illegal,” he added.

Aside from this, he also said that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) should implement the Vessel Monitoring Mechanism (VMM) that provides important data of vessels, including its direction and location.

“Sana i-implement na ni BFAR ‘yong provision na dapat may tracker ang bawat bangka 3.0 gross tons pataas ay may ganito kung saan magfe-feed ito sa satellite ng location nya at direction. But, unfortunately delayed na ito ng tatlong taon,” he said.

During the question hour, board member David Francis Ponce de Leon also recommended asking the three congressmen to sponsor a bill asking boat operators to install trackers in their fishing vessels.

“We will ask our congressmen to sponsor a bill [about this], malaking tulong ‘yon and we can monitor them [boat],” he said.

Guidote, also said they are willing to provide assistance in monitoring vessels in municipal waters.

Board Member Roseller Pineda also said that Oceana’s appearance in the PB is an eye-opener for everyone to study and check if these commercial fishing vessels are obeying the municipal ordinance being imposed.

He also said that many municipalities are implementing the 10.1 kilometers

“Ito kasing 10 kilometers ay dapat sustenance fishing ang nandito. But because we allowed them, there is a question if the municipal government is only after the taxes [and] money received from them? Or they are after to the small fisherfolks within their vicinity. Hindi na natin maitago ‘yan kaya we need to strengthen our efforts,” he said.

Local executives in Palawan welcomed the partnership between Oceana, the world’s largest international marine advocacy organization, and the League of Municipalities in the Philippines (LMP) to fight, deter, and stop illegal fishing in municipal waters nationwide.