Filipino commercial fishermen gained extension for the access to the High Seas Pocket 1, ensuring growth in the country’s fish production and continued revitalization of the tuna industry, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said.
BFAR Director Asis Perez said that the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has approved the Philippines’ request during the 10th Regular Session of the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPFC) in Cairn, Australia.
WCPFC is a regional fisheries management organization that addresses problems in the management of high seas fisheries.
“The good news is that we were able to negotiate for our country’s continuous access to the High Seas Pocket 1,” Perez said, who was part of the Philippine delegation that attended the five-day WCPFC convention.
This continued fishing access is a result of the Philippines’ commitment to ensuring long-term sustainability of highly migratory fish stocks parallel with rights under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, the WCPFC Convention, and the country’s adherence to progressive implementation of the commission’s management measures.
For two years now, the Philippines is the only nation allowed to go fishing in the High Seas Pocket 1 following a series of proposals set before the WCPFC.
In April 2012, the country was granted fishing access to the said area until March of this year. It was then extended until June 2013 after it was ruled that the country was adhering to responsible fishing practices.
The High Seas Pocket 1 was opened two years ago following a two-year fishing ban in all four pockets due to the growing alarm over declining tuna catches. Not all fishing nations, however, was granted fishing access subject for compliance to tuna conservation measures. Perez, however, sees this as both a challenge and an opportunity to encourage the sector to continuously practice responsible fishing such as long line fishing, citing some 2,000 metric tons quota left unused for long line fishing.
On October 24, the Philippines sent off an initial number of 21 fishing vessels to the High Seas Pocket 1. A total of 36 catcher-vessels are set to sail for the said fishing ground before the year ends.
It can be recalled that in 2012, the Philippines played host to a close to 600 delegates from WCPFC members, cooperating non-members, and participating territories during the Ninth Regular Session of the WCPFC in Manila.
Exclusive to Philippines
The opening of the High Seas 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.
In addition, these vessels will have to allow Fisheries Observers on board to report the volume, time and origin of their catches. Their catches will also have to be landed exclusively in General Santos City.
“This 100-percent observer coverage is also designed to gather scientific, compliance and other relevant information,” Perez said.
The BFAR chief also said that the government would continue to conduct research on tuna spawning grounds in the country and ensure that these are protected.
The recent Philippine Tuna Fisheries Profile shows that the access in High Seas Pocket 1 since October last year contributed an average of 755.8 tons of tuna catch per month to total tuna production, from October 2012 to May 2013.