THE European Commission has removed the Philippines from the list of countries challenged with the implementation of measures to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF).
In a statement released on its website, the European Commission said it has revoked the “yellow card” warning on the Philippines as it acknowledged the government’s efforts to partner with European countries in fighting IUUF.
On Wednesday, the Department of Agriculture welcomed the decision as formal recognition of the government’s commitment to put an end to unsustainable fishing practices which compromise not only the country’s marine resources but also the long-term livelihood of around 1.8 million fishery stakeholders.
“We are pleased with this development as it formally recognizes the government’s serious efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of fisheries resource abuse,” said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
The Commission had issued a formal notice to the Philippines in June 2014 for inadequately addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The EC then advised the country to fulfill its commitment in deterring and preventing unregulated fishing to avoid the possibility of being identified as a non-cooperating country in the international fight against IUUF.
Alcala emphasized that the government’s initiatives to curb IUUF are aligned with international agreements, regional obligations and global market requirements.
“The country’s effort against IUUF is anchored on its commitment as member of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), which adopted the International Plan of Action (IPOA) to prevent, deter and eliminate IUUF,” he said.
“In line with this commitment, after a series of consultations with stakeholders, the Philippines formally adopted a National Plan of Action (NPOA) through Executive Order No. 154 which was signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd in 2013,” he said.
As the Philippines joins the ranks of cooperating countries in the global fight against IUUF, the government expects more flourishing trade relations with the EU that would eventually benefit the whole fishery sector, the DA chief added.
The Philippines exports more than P8 billion worth of fish products to the EU annually.
Fisheries governance reforms
Less than a year since the EU issued the warning, various government actions have made the country the fastest compared in fulfilling commitments in the global effort to curb IUU fishing, the DA said.
The European Union lauded the significant progress the Philippines made in its policy and structural reforms, most notably the passing of Republic Act (RA) 10654, which amended the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, otherwise known as RA 8550, on February 27, 2015.
The provisions of the amended fisheries code added IUU fishing as an offense and increased the sanctions and penalties for violations.
“The Philippines has taken responsible action, amended its legal systems and switched to proactive approach against illegal fishing,” European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said in the statement.
Aside from having an amended fisheries code with a deterrent scheme of sanctions, the EU cited the Philippines for “the improvement of the traceability and catch certification schemes, reinforced cooperation with Papua New Guinea for inspection and control and coverage of the activities of the long distant fleet operating beyond Philippine waters.”
Alcala also acknowledged Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Agriculture and Food Committee chairperson, and Representative Benhur Salimbangon, chairperson of Aquaculture and Fisheries Committee in the House of Representatives, for their decisive efforts in shepherding the passage of RA 10654 in the Senate and Congress.
He also congratulated the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for taking proactive moves in pushing for the fishery reforms.
The DA also recognizes the active involvement of the Philippine Committee against IUU fishing composed of the Office of the President, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Finance, Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of National Defense, and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and their respective offices and attached agencies, as well as the concerned economic zone authorities and the private sector in improving the country’s policies and measures on IUUF.
Environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines lauded the BFAR for taking action against IUUF.
“We should not stop here. We have created the momentum to sustainably transform the country’s fisheries sector,” said WWF president and CEO Joel Palma.
“Our oceans are nearly in collapse with over 80 percent of global fish stocks overexploited,” Palma said.
The rating served to warn the country that unless it took steps to seriously combat IUUF, all Philippine seafood products would be banned banned in the EU. It has sanctioned nations that ignored international fishing standards since 2010.
The EU estimates that up to 26 million tons of seafood – 15 percent of global yield – are caught via IUUF.
“BFAR has pointed out that 10 of the country’s 13 major fishing areas are heavily exploited. With our population ballooning, can we afford to lose the systems that provide us with food? We call on the fisheries sector to sustain our seas,” he added.
WWF works in over 100 countries to conserve marine resources. Its global campaign for 2015, Sustain Our Seas, will be launched tomorrow to encourage public and private sector leaders to revive the oceans and protect the lives and livelihoods of billions of people worldwide.