Amended Fisheries Code took effect, IRR out by September

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources strengthens its fight against illegal fishing activities in the country through amending Republic Act 8550 also known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.

RA 8550 was amended by RA 10654 which was passed into law on February 27, 2015. It took effect 15 days after its publication on March 9 while consultation with the stakeholders for the drafting of IRR was scheduled on April 13 and 14, 2015. The drafting committee comprises of representatives from the government, private sector, civil society, and the academe.

The newly amended fisheries code is an "Act to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing." As defined by the International Plan of Action (IPOA), IUU fishing refers to fishing activities that do not comply with national, regional, or international fisheries conservation or management legislation or measures.

According to Atty. Annaliza A. Vitug, amending the fisheries code is part of the country's international commitment based on IPOA which encourages states to adopt a national plan of action (NPOA) to effectively curb all forms of IUU fishing. This was promulgated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations where the Philippines is a member. In line with this commitment, the Philippines had formally adopted its NPOA-IUU through Executive Order No. 154 which was signed in 2013 by President Benigno Aquino III.

On April 2015, the administration was pleased in the country's development as the European Union finally revoked the 'yellow card' notice issued to the Philippines in 2013. The yellow card notice is issue to countries with unregulated illegal fishing activities. European Commissioner Karmenu Vella of the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has recognized the responsible action taken by the Philippines in amending its legal system and switching to proactive approach against illegal fishing.

IUU fishing is seen as a main threat to the sustainability of migratory and shared stocks which has caused depletion of fisheries and aquatic resources globally. This is why a need for a major global effort to prevent the scenario was realized.

As defined in the amended law, illegal fishing takes place where vessels operate in violation of Philippine laws. This also applies to fisheries that are under the jurisdiction of other coastal states or to high seas fisheries regulated by regional organization.

Unreported fishing refers to fishing activities which have not been reported, or have been misreported to the Department, in contravention of national laws and regulations of the Philippines or undertaken in the area of competence of a relevant RFMO which have not been reported or have been misreported.

Furthermore, unregulated fishing generally refers to fishing by vessels without nationality but operated by Filipino, Philippine flagged fishing vessels operating in areas managed by RFMOs to which the Philippines is not a party or Philippine flagged fishing vessels operating in areas or fish stocks where there are no applicable conservation and management measures.

Among the salient features of the newly-amended fisheries code is the increase in fines and adoption of a wide array of accompanying administrative penalties for serious violations to ensure that sanctions are dissuasive and have deterrent effect. The following is the proposed range of fines for violations/offenses committed by fishing scale:

2M-9M pesos for small scale commercial fishing
10M-15M pesos for medium scale commercial fishing
16M-20M for large scale commercial fishing vessel less than 750 gross tons
25M-45M pesos for large scale commercial fishing vessel 750 gross tons or more

The law also empowers BFAR to enforce the international and regional conservation measures in Philippine waters as well as the archipelagic waters.

In anticipation of the implementation of the newly amended Philippine fisheries code of 1998, BFAR Information Officers were gathered to create a wide scale of public awareness on the newly amended law. Their role is recognized as pivotal to the diffusion of information in priority sectors.