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Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

By December, the European Union will decide on the status of the Philippines as a noncooperating third party in its campaign against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF). Last June, the Philippines received a “yellow card” from the European Union; the sanction was only a warning and did not entail trade measures. The formalization of this dialogue process served to strengthen the cooperation between the European Commission and the Philippines to address all problems within a logical time frame of six months.

Why is the European Union concerned about Philippine fisheries? It has a lot to do with the depletion of the world’s fish stocks. Globally, the demand for seafood is increasing, pushing the industry to resort to unsustainable, and sometimes illegal, fishing practices in order to provide consumers with fish to eat and enjoy.

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Sadly, the Philippines’ seas are experiencing an unprecedented crisis: Ten of 13 fishing grounds have collapsed or are severely depleted. Despite this alarming news, Philippine fisheries continue to operate in a “business as usual” manner. Huge profits accrue only to the corporate few, much to the disadvantage of small-scale fisherfolk who cannot compete with commercial fishing vessels that encroach on municipal waters and where IUUF is rampant. Just one big commercial fishing vessel is enough to rob 65 small boats of their daily catch, the only means of livelihood for at least 1.2 million fishers nationwide.

The reasons for an EU action on IUUF are threefold: First, international consolidated tools are not enough. Second, IUUF has environmental and socioeconomic impacts on fish stocks, developing countries and legitimate trade. Third, the European Union is the largest importer of fishery products and is thus essential to ensure traceability in the whole chain—from net to plate—of all fishery products traded with it. To date, five countries have been issued yellow cards: the Philippines, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, Curacao and Ghana. Three countries were issued red cards (which involve the imposition of trade sanctions): Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Guinea.

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In a forum held at the Philippine Council of Agriculture Fisheries (PCAF), an EU representative mentioned six main issues that the Philippines would have to address concerning IUUF. These are: deficient traceability schemes; absence of a comprehensive catch certificate scheme; lack of compliance regarding flag state responsibility over the long-distance fleet operating in Papua New Guinea waters and the areas of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas; a legal framework not addressing IUUF activities, and without a deterrent sanction system; lack of sufficient administrative capacities to ensure control and enforcement; and lack of compliance with international law and Regional Fisheries Management Organization rules.

The chair of the PCAF Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, Arsenio Tanchuling, stressed the urgency to prioritize these six major deficiencies through the mechanisms that will operationalize the National Plan of Action on IUUF. Private-sector members of the committee and representatives of concerned civil society organizations, including Greenpeace, pledged support to assist the government in addressing the issues identified.

One of the commitments made by the Philippine government to address IUUF is to amend the Fisheries Code of 1998. In fact, the government tried its best to keep this yellow-card issue at bay, so much so that it conducted selected consultations to amend the Fisheries Code. To beat the EU deadline, the Philippines has been cramming to submit the amendments haphazardly.

It took no less than President Benigno Aquino III, who visited Europe last September, to assure the European Union that the Philippines is doing its best to comply with the issues on IUUF.

Unfortunately, “unlimited fishing” in Philippine waters by municipal fishing boats and commercial fishing fleets in high seas continues unabated. The small-scale fisherfolk—arguably the biggest stakeholders—are clueless about the government’s plan to address IUUF. Worse, they were not even consulted during the latter stages of the Fisheries Code amendment process.

Before the European Union’s yellow-card sanction, these fishers had to constantly remind and plead with the government to be more proactive to stop illegal fishing in their municipal waters. No government agency seemed to listen to the cares and concerns of the already marginalized fisherfolk.

Now, the Philippine government is on its toes as the European Union threatens to take away the lucrative businesses of the big commercial vessels that export fish to it. They certainly do not want to end up like Sri Lanka, which is now experiencing massive economic disruptions and further hardships in its fisheries sector.

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It would take a concerted effort from the entire fisheries sector—from local fisherfolk to seafood consumers—to ensure that efforts on IUUF are not resolved along the margins of diplomatic tradeoffs only to benefit the “bigger fish.” As to whether the Philippines can expect a red, yellow, or green card from the European Union by Christmas time, your guess is as good as mine.

Ephraim Patrick Batungbacal is the Regional Oceans research coordinator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia

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TAGS: Arsenio Tanchuling, European Union, Illegal fishing, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, IUUF, PCAF Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, Philippine Fisheries, Unregulated Fishing, Unreported Fishing
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