By Aquiles Z. Zonio
Owners of the first batch of fishing vessels given limited access to fish in the pocket number 1 of the western and central pacific ocean were advised to strictly comply with the conservation measures imposed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
The challenge was hurled no less than by the top official of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Greenpeace and General Santos City local government.
Five tuna catchers from different fishing firms in GenSan sailed out yesterday to the High Seas Pocket number 1 (HSP-1) after the WCPFC lifted the two-year ban on catching Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna.
The limited access was given only to 36 Philippine fishing vessels until the end of February 2013.
Joaquin Lu, president of SFFAII, said during the simple send off rites that regaining the access on HSP-1 was not easy.
“Let us prove that we are worth of the Commission’s trust and even worth beyond February 2013,” Lu said in his speech.
Lu was expecting an uphill battle for the industry come WCPFC regular conference slated in December in Manila.
“Our performance in the high seas will determine whether our access will be extended or not. So, let us honor our commitment for responsible and sustainable fishing,” Lu challenged his fellow fishing operators.
BFAR reminded the fishing operators to follow the guidelines strictly.
“The privilege given to you has an accompanying responsibility. Don’t destroy the name of our country. We don’t want to lose face before the Commission,” BFAR regional director Ambutong K. Pautong said.
Pautong claimed conservation measures were imposed by the WCPFC to ensure sustainable stocks of tuna in the high seas.
Assitant City administrator Glenn Gonzales reminded the local fishers that “giving us back an access to rich fishing ground is a rare opportunity.”
Fishing industry is the backbone of local economy. More than a hundred thousand residents depend on fishing and its allied industries for livelihood.
Fishers are expecting an abundant catch after a two-year fishing ban was imposed on HSP-1 of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
“We should not think of living on a day to day basis. If we abuse the generosity and bounty of nature, we will come home one day bringing nothing,” Gonzales said.
Greenpeace suggested that BFAR should come up with guidelines to reduce the number of fishing vessels in the country.
Vince Cinches, chief ocean campaigner of Greenpeace, said the industry is bugged by overfishing.
“There are so many fishing boats running after the dwindling tuna species. The industry should observe closed season and the government, through BFAR, should adopt conservation measures,” Cinches said.
Cinches challenged the BFAR to closely monitor the fishing vessels given access to HSP-1.
The Greenpeace official has also urged BFAR to strictly monitor if the purse seine vessels are catching juvenile tuna.
“BFAR should monitor Market 2 and 3 of the Gensan Fishing Port. I saw buckets of juvenile Yellowfin tuna. This is a violation of our temporary fishing access granted by the WCPFC,” Cinches claimed.
BFAR issued Fisheries Administrative Order no. 245 last Aug. 12 prescribing regulations and setting implementing guidelines on 36 fishing vessels given access to HSP-1.
Among the salient features of FAO 245 include criteria in qualifying for fishing access, procedure in the allocation of fishing access, installation of vessel monitoring system, monitoring of port landings, catch limit, net mesh size, use of fish aggregating device, nature of access rights and penalties, among others.
The Philippine government and the fishing sector lobbied hard for an access into HSP-1 to ease pressure on Philippine fishing grounds.
Cinches said now that the fishing vessels will sail out again to the high seas, the government should really adopt conservation measures to rehabilitate our local fishing grounds.