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Sustainability think-tank makes case for caution over SONA directive for fisheries code amendment

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In a statement issued Wednesday, the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) welcomed the attention given by the recent State of the Nation Address (SONA) on the plight of fisherfolk and fisheries resources, but raised concern that conversations regarding the amendment of the Fisheries Code prior to SONA fail to genuinely address threats confronted by workers and resources in the fisheries sector, and have largely neglected proper consultation with stakeholders.

Fisheries and aquaculture are a critical sector for the country’s food security and economy, with over 2 million registered fisherfolk across the country and an estimated contribution of Php 248 billion to the National Economy in 2021. Fish and seafood are the primary source of protein for most Filipinos. In the SONA, the amendment of Republic Act No. 10654 or the Amended Fisheries Code was listed as a priority legislation, to “guarantee sustainable development of our fisheries sector in harmony with environmental balance.”

“In light of this policy directive, CEED urges the administration to prioritize the stringent enforcement of existing measures to protect and conserve coastal areas and seas as its primary way forward, and to ensure a transparent consultation process on the status of implementation with fisherfolk and concerned sectors. Most importantly, any action on the government concerning fisheries must prioritize the empowerment of municipal fisherfolk in accessing and protecting near-shore marine resources, and in contributing to the management of the country’s fisheries industry as the sector’s key stakeholders,” CEED said in a statement.

The sustainability think-tank said the government must prioritize addressing crucial problems threatening fisheries stakeholders and marine resources even as it contemplates an amendment of the Code. These include the lifting of a Memorandum mandating vessel monitoring measures and electronic reporting systems to track the activities of commercial fishing vessels, elusiveness of accountability and properly valuated compensation for affected fisherfolk amid the oil spill crisis in the Verde Island Passage, and threats risking shrinking access of fisherfolk to near-shore waters such as proposed changes in definition of the scope of municipal waters and the rise of water-intensive and coastal facilities and shipping activities for gas and liquefied natural gas projects along the VIP.

CEED also noted that mandatory reviews of the implementation of the Fisheries Code should be undertaken at least once every five years, with meaningful participation from fisherfolk and other stakeholders.

“Civil society, fisherfolk, and concerned sectors will watch over the proposition to amend the Fisheries Code with vigilance. The government must ensure that it is a process which places the preservation of our megadiverse yet critically endangered marine and coastal resources as primary agenda, and tilts the balance of resource access and decision-making capacities in favor of municipal and small-scale fisherfolk who, with their day-to-day living being woven to the health of our seas, are the most capable and knowledgeable in protecting it,” the statement read.

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