‘Fund lack’ stalls mandatory installation of VMS on commercial fishing boats  

The installation of satellite-based vessel-monitoring system (VMS) and radio frequency-based vessel-monitoring mechanism (VMM) may have to wait a little longer, said Oceana Philippines, a not-for-profit organization.

Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, told the BusinessMirror that the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) has stopped allocating funds for the mandatory public consultations, which are part of the process for the final cut of the draft implementing rules and regulation (IRR) of Republic Act 10654, or the Amended Fisheries Code of the Philippines.

“The consultation was stopped in September because there is no more fund for the public consultations. I don’t believe it.  I cannot believe it,” said Ramos, an environmental advocate.

Ramos added the public consultation with stakeholders is important to inform the affected sectors of the provisions of the law.

Sans IRR, the provision mandating the installation of VMS or VMM for commercial fishing vessels, especially for vessels with 2.1 gross tonnage (GT) to 30 GT, will be stalled, she said, adding that the installation is already delayed for two years.

“We are very happy that the BFAR, after two years since the law was amended, created the technical working group to craft the IRR, especially for 2.1 [tonnage] to 30 tonnage.  There is already a draft IRR.  Unfortunately, we were told there was no more budget,” she said.

The installation of vessel-monitoring devices for commercial fishing vessels is supposed to be implemented by this year. “The law is very clear: All commercial fishing vessels should have vessel monitoring. Without this, there should be no permit,” she added.

Ramos suspected that some quarters are exerting effort to stall the mandatory installation of vessel-monitoring device, as she reminded the DA-BFAR that it may be held liable for failing to perform is duties and responsibilities as mandated by law.

Ramos, a lawyer, said even citizens can file suit against the government for not doing their job.

The government, she added, should also not worry about being slapped with a suit by those who are out to stall the implementation of the Amended Fisheries Code, particularly the installation of vessel-monitoring device, saying there is already an anti-SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation law against malicious prosecution.

“We call the attention of everyone.  There is a provision on citizen suit. Citizens can file suit against the government for not doing their job. It is also anti-SLAPP against malicious prosecution. The BFAR should be the ones implementing this together with local government units,” she said.

“We don’t buy the argument that there’s no more budget when it can award P30 million for MMK,” referring to the Malinis at Masaganang Karapatan, a DA-BFAR program in search of outstanding coastal communities.

In Negros Oriental, Provincial Fisheries Officer Nathaniel Lucero said there is an existing moratorium on the installation of vessel monitoring device for commercial fishing vessels.

He said once the moratorium is lifted, the BFAR will strictly enforce the requirement to install the vessel monitoring device before registration or renewal of license and granting of a permit to operate.

There are 30 commercial fishing vessels that are operating with no permit, 100 are currently applying for permits, while 62 are currently operating with the corresponding permit and are registered by the agency.

Danny Ocampo, campaign manager of Oceana Philippines, said, elsewhere, there are successful pilot testing of vessel monitoring device in several commercial fishing vessels, particularly the radio-frequency-based vessel monitoring mechanism.

He underscored the need for DA-BFAR provincial offices to communicate with concerned commercial fishing operators within their respective jurisdiction.

Vessel monitoring system can help authorities pinpoint the exact location and track the behavior of commercial fishing vessels while out on a fishing expedition.

Ramos said Oceana is mulling to file a citizen’s suit against government officials who fail to do their job.

With the VMS in place, authorities can tell whether the boat has encroached or trespassed areas that are “off limits” to commercial fishing such as 15-kilometer municipal fishing grounds, the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape and other local Marine Protected Areas.