Palawan may deny return of commercial fishing in municipal waters

The regional office of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) assured on Monday municipalities in Palawan may opt not to modify their municipal water restrictions to allow the return of commercial fishing vessels.

BFAR assistant regional director Roberto Abrera said this after DA Sec. Emmanuel Piñol stated in July that he is reviewing proposals to increase the gross tonnage of boats and permit the re-entry of commercial fishing within the 15-kilometer limit in municipal waters, including allowing back the use of sanctioned super lights to attract fish.

He said Palawan’s municipal fishing grounds are “overfished” and allowing the return of commercial fishing vessels will only further degrade them.

“Ang municipal waters natin ay sabihin natin na overfished na talaga, pero may mga underfished areas tayo kagaya ng West Philippine Sea. Parang tayo dito [lang nangingisda] sa mga traditional fishing grounds kagaya ng Sulu Sea, Cuyo, at Dumaran, samantalang sa West Philippine Sea ay napakayaman niyan,” he said.

Abrera noted that the proposals can even be “location-specific” depending on the needs of other municipalities in the country or region.

“Definitely, sa atin, lalo na tayo hindi naman, actually the other day galing din ako ng Marinduque. Ang mga Marinduque na ‘yan, mga Romblon, kahit nga Oriental Mindoro, very limited ang kanilang fishing grounds. Whereas sa atin [sa Palawan], malawak ang ating fishing ground, [so] hindi kailangan,” said Abrera.

He said currently, only fishing boats weighing under three gross tons can fish within the 15-kilometer municipal waters.

“Iyong fishery code as amended by [R.A.] 10654, ang mga commercial fishing boats natin, ‘yong [mga] 3.1 [gross tons] up ay ina-allow lang beyond 15 kilometers. Pero may provision na kung ang isang LGU [ay] magpo-propose, puwede siyang 10.1 [kilometers] until 15 [kilometers away from the shoreline [at] nakalagay naman ‘yon sa batas,” he said.

Reacting to the news, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) information officer Jovic Fabello said allowing the return of commercial fishing vessels to operate within the municipal waters will only increase competition for local catch, considering they have advanced resources.

Small fishing boats, he said, only have passive gears.

“If we allow the entry of commercial vessels into the 15-kilometer municipal waters, it will deprive the local fishermen. Sa ngayon kasi, hirap na nga sila makahuli within municipal waters, papapasukin pa natin ‘yong malalaki, [mata]talo talaga sila,” he said.

Fabello stated the main concern of PCSDS is the welfare of the local citizens.

He advised fishermen in the province to engage in the public consultation process and exercise their right to choose for their own welfare.

“Unang-una, kailangan maging active sila in participating kapag halimbawang aamiyendahan ‘yong ganiyang batas sa kanilang locality. Mag-participate sila. During the process of ordinance makinig dapat at mag-participate sila. Talagang ilatag nila ‘yong mga kondisyones o ‘yong mga bagay-bagay na sa tingin nila ay talagang maaapektuhan sila,” he urged.

Abrera said currently commercial fishing vessels weighing “3.1 gross tons and above” can only operate outside the municipal waters.

He said that is because they have the capacity to sail to the high seas where there are fishing grounds that teem with fish/

He said Sec. Piñol’s proposal aims to increase the downward movement of fish catch from 20% to 22% since R.A. 10654 amended the 1998 Fisheries Code of the Philippines, and enforced the 15-kilometer limit in municipal waters.

“Iyan po ay mga proposal. Ang mga proposal na iyan ay mga option talaga na provided by batas na puwede basta dumaan muna sa proseso. Those are alternatives. Pero if we can avoid that,” said Abrera.

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