Gov’t vows sustainable fishing as EU issues warning

Manila News Bureau Chief

MANILA – The Philippine government has vowed to further promote sustainable fishing practices in compliance with the standards set by the European Union (EU), the world’s biggest fish importer.

The European Commission recently announced the possibility of an import ban against the Philippines if it fails to curb illegal fishing.

According to Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala already met with the EU delegation and “was able to address the concerns of the EU.”

“We understand the concern of EU,” said Lacierda. “It advocates sustainable fishing and we are one with them.”

“There are certain measures that the Department of Agriculture, specifically the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, has taken,” he added.

One of the measures is the installation of transponders in fishing vessels to allow the government to monitor their movements. He said the patrol boats have also been deployed to monitor fishing vessels.

“The EU delegation has been appraised of the measures we have taken…We will continue to improve our measures,” he said.

The European Commission has decided to issue a “yellow card” against the Philippines after the country failed to fulfill its duties as flag, coastal, port or market state in line with international law, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) or United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.

In this light, the EU has taken a decision which highlights areas where the Philippines is not yet doing enough to fight illegal fishing.

It identified certain shortcoming, such as lack of action to address deficiencies in monitoring, controlling and surveillance of fisheries, and suggested corrective measures.

The decision will not, at this stage, entail any measures affecting trade. However, if the Philippines fail to ensure the sustainable use of the sea and its resources, then the Commission may take certain trade measures including a ban on the country from selling fisheries products to the 28-nation EU.

In a statement, European Commissioner Maria Damanaki, in charge of Maritime Affairs and Fisheriesm stressed that what the Commission issued “is not a black list, but a yellow card.”

“We want the Philippines as partner to combat illegal fishing,” Damanaki, said. “We want the country to improve its legal and control systems as required by international rules. But we also want to signal to the world that the EU will not tolerate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing – a criminal activity which undermines the livelihood of fishing communities and depletes fish stocks. It must be eradicated by all means.”

In the light of the dependence of Philippine coastal communities on fisheries, she said the EU is keen to cooperate with the Philippines to help ensure the sustainability of their livelihood and global fisheries.

The Commission’s decision, the third of its kind, is a result of a thorough analysis and took into account the country’s level of development.

It followed a long period of informal discussions that started in 2012. The decision started a formal procedure of dialogue and cooperation with the Philippines aimed at solving the established shortcomings.

The position will be reviewed in six months time to see if the Philippines have made enough progress on action plans drawn up by the EU, the Commission said.

The EU imported fish worth 165 million euros (approximately P9.8 billion) from the Philippines in 2013.

In March, the EU banned fish imports from Belize, Cambodia and Guinea for “acting insufficiently against illegal fishing.”

The Commission similarly warned Panama, Fiji, Togo, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu in 2012 and South Korea, Ghana and Curacao in 2013 but said Tuesday most of these countries had “cooperated constructively” with Brussels.

Illegal fishing is estimated to account for 15 percent of the world catch annually, with the EU importing about 65 percent of its seafood./PN