MINDORO: Fisherfolk and local government leaders, together with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Navama, are promoting fisheries transparency and safety at sea through an initiative called the Smart Track Project.
Fisheries transparency – where and how fish are caught – has become a global issue. Fish are often gathered through illegal means or in protected areas and many catches remain unreported.
In December 2006, the M/V Hoi Wan, a Chinese fishing vessel, was caught poaching off the Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan. Among its catch were 359 legally-protected Napoleon Wrasse, which can be illegally sold for P6000 per kilogram.
The European Union estimates that about 26 million tons of seafood – 15% of global yields – are caught via Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. A yellow card was issued to the Philippines in June 2014 for failing to curb IUU fishing. The rating warned the country that unless it addressed IUU fishing, its seafood products would be banned in Europe.
Fortunately, the yellow card rating was lifted in April 2015 after the government replaced its ancient fisheries code with Republic Act 10654 while vigorously promoting sustainable fishing.
To track the routes of fishing boats in the Mindoro Strait, the WWF and Navama have outfitted 13 vessels with satellite trackers—the same kind used for commercial cargo.
Princess Camile, a tuna vessel, goes head to head with furious six-foot high waves caused by the northeast monsoon— or what we call amihan. Coupled with the night’s darkness, locating the boat is not without difficulty. Luckily, there is a little device attached to the boat’s mast that does the tracking.
“These trackers use cellular or satellite networks to plot GPS coordinates and visually depict vessel routes. This is crucial for safety and to ensure that boats fish only in proper zones,” explains Navama chief engineer Simon Struck. “The matchbox-sized devices are weatherproof, economical, and simple to use.”
“Fishers who aboard satellite-equipped boats can proudly show the world that they only fish in proper zones,” shouts team leader Joann Binondo above the whistle of the wind. Binondo heads WWF’s Partnership Program Towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST). Since 2011, they have been working to enhance yellowfin tuna management practices for 5800 fishers in 112 tuna fishing villages in Bicol and Mindoro.
PPTST works with Bicol and Mindoro LGUs, BFAR, WWF International, WWF-Germany, plus European seafood companies and their local suppliers. It has spearheaded the registration and licensing of tuna fishers, vessels and gear to minimize bycatch and illegal fishing.
“We hope these satellite trackers will become mandatory equipment for all commercial fishing vessels,” says Binondo. “Just knowing where our fish comes from is a big step in curbing IUU fishing.”