Filipino commercial fishermen gained new access to the High Seas Pocket 1, providing boost to the country’s commercial fish production and revitalizing the tuna industry that has been sagging since 2008, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said on Thursday.
During the send-off ceremony in General Santos City, BFAR Director Asis Perez said that 84 commercial fishing vessels will troop to the tuna-rich High Seas Pocket 1 of the Western Pacific Ocean, in time for the opening of the fishing season on November 1 this year.
“The ceremony involved the highest number of Philippine fishing vessels that will operate in the high seas,” Perez said.
To recall, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), a regional fisheries management organization that addresses problems in the management of high seas fisheries, closed four high seas pockets from tuna fishing for two years beginning 2009, in response to the growing alarm over declining tuna catches.
In April 2012, the WCPFC supported the “Philippine Conservation and Management Proposal,” which allows fishing of 36 group seines in the area between Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia, also known as High Seas Pocket 1.
This measure allowed the country to fish until March 2013.
The same support was granted by the Commission in December of 2012, convinced that the country adheres to responsible fishing operations, thereby, extending the right of the Philippines to fish in the area until June 30, 2013.
Another fishing ban was imposed from July 1 to October 30 this year due to Fish Aggregating Device closure. The Philippines, however, gets new access in the High Seas Pocket 1 as the fishing season opens on November 1.
By December 2013, the Philippines will again present its case before the WCPFC to request for continuous access in the High Seas Pocket 1 for 2014 and beyond.
“If granted, this would still come with the commission’s strict imposition of regulations for the Philippine fishing vessels in the area which has become a known fishing ground for tuna fishers,” Perez said.
The multinational WCPFC establishes measures to ensure long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks like tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
As the commission convenes its 10th regular session in December, new or enhanced measures are expected to replace interim conservation measures currently being implemented.
The opening of Pocket 1 is exclusive to Philippine catcher vessels with a capacity of no more than 250 tons. Still part of WCPFC’s regulations, only traditional fresh and chilled catching vessels operating as a group will be allowed in the area.