Environmental group Oceana, along with more than 1,100 fisherfolk groups across the country, urged Department of Agriculture (DA) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to lead the opposition to House Bill 7853 that will allow commercial fishing operations in the country’s municipal waters.
“We need to uphold the law and complete the implementation of reforms under the amended Fisheries Code,” the groups said in a joint statement that was sent to the author of the bill, Cebu Third District Rep. Pablo John Garcia, and members of the House of Representatives Committee on Aquaculture and Fisheries.
“Instead of supporting the artisanal fisherfolk improve their capacity and efficiency in their fishing efforts that will improve their livelihood and rise above from hunger and malnutrition, they will open up the municipal water to commercial fishing operations. All the efforts to increase production in fisheries while improving the life and livelihood of municipal fisherfolk will lead to nothing,” they further said.
House Bill 7853, which seeks to amend Section 18 of Republic Act 8550, or the “Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998,” seeks to expand the possible area of operations of commercial fishing vessels, as defined by law, within municipal waters.
The fisherfolk groups came from the provinces of Aklan, Albay, Antique, Aurora, Biliran, Bohol, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Camiguin, Capiz, Catanduanes, Cavite, Cebu, Eastern Samar, Guimaras, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Palawan, Samar, Siquijor, Southern Leyte, Surigao del Sur, and Zamboanga Sibugay.
Oceana, other civil society organizations (CSOs), and NGOs for Fisheries Reform stressed that HB 7853 will affect the sustainability of the country’s already fragile marine ecosystem.
The fishery advocates were also alarmed with the new amendment to the bill during the technical working group meeting of the House Committee on Aquaculture and Fisheries that will allow commercial fishing vessels to operate within an 8.1- to 15-kilometer area from the shoreline in municipal waters.
The CSOs said they are touching base with other legislative leaders, including members of the House Committee on Aquaculture and Fisheries, for support in opposing the bill. They are mobilizing stakeholders to contact their respective Congressional representatives to oppose the bill, as well as meet with the DA and BFAR to secure their official position on the said bill.
Oceana Vice President Gloria Estenzo Ramos reiterated that “municipal waters are important areas that are highly productive because they harbor important ecosystems and habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves. These provide shelter and reproduction areas for fishes and other marine organisms. It is important that they are healthy and resilient to the impacts of climate crisis and to the health emergency we all face.”
Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore the abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.