By Keziah Joy C. Roa JD 1, Anne Mary Louise L. Ongsuco JD 1 & Rachel Lois B. Gella JD 1
The focus of this research stems from the importance of analyzing the overarching trends of trawl fishing laws in the Philippines which greatly affect small-scale fisherfolks. This research study is geared towards identifying the factors that influence the existing laws governing the ban on trawl fishing in the Philippines which also call for a much greater examination especially on its legal foundation. Although such laws are implemented in the national level, the researchers concentrates on its effects on the small-scale fisherfolks in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. The local community was chosen as a participant in order to create an avenue for the researchers to integrate the analysis of the study. Much of the discussion is on the review of how these laws are implemented on the local community of Bacolod City and the challenges and constraints the local government faces in enforcing such laws.
This study aims to identify and analyze the status of implementation of the existing laws governing the ban of bottom trawl fishing in municipal waters of Bacolod City.
Specifically, this aims to: 1.) Determine the changes on the previous legal provisions of RA 8550, known as the Fisheries Code of the Philippines, as amended by RA 10654, An Act to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing; 2.) Identify environmental impacts of the ban on Bottom Trawl Fishing in municipal waters of Bacolod City; and 3.) Determine the factors that affect the enforcement and implementation of the ban on Bottom Trawl operation.
The focus of this study is on the implementation of the banning of bottom-trawl operation in the City of Bacolod. Located at the central part of the Negros Island, Bacolod City is a coastal highly urbanized city in the Western Visayas Region with a land area of 162.67 square kilometers and a majority of its fishing communities rely their livelihood on a portion of the Guimaras Strait within its jurisdiction. It has an estimated terrain elevation of about 11.3 meters above sea level (PhilAtlas 2019). In the recent census conducted by Philippine Statistics Authority (2015), Bacolod City has a total population of 561,875 people.
Figure 1. Map of Bacolod City (Google Maps, 2019)
3.2 Research Design
A Key Informant Interview was conducted on November 28, 2019 with the City Agriculturist of Bacolod. Semi-structured questions were prepared prior to activity and was categorized into three major topics: Status of the implementation of banning of bottom-trawl fishing in the municipality of Bacolod; Actions taken by the city to strengthen the mandate; and the effects of the banning Bottom-Trawl operations to the fishing community in Bacolod City as well as to the environment. General and open-ended questions were asked in order to allow the Key Informant to express his own perspectives based on personal experiences. The information obtained were then transcribed for analysis.
Descriptive research analysis was used to interpret the data obtained from the interview. Related literature were reviewed and existing laws relevant to the implementation of the ban of bottom-trawl fishing operations in the municipal waters were evaluated.
- DEFINITION OF TERMS
4.1. Active Fishing Gear – according to Republic Act No. 10654, active fishing gear involves a fishing device characterized by the pursuit of the target species by towing, pushing the gears, surrounding, covering, dredging, and scaring the target species to impoundments. It is a fish capture based on the aimed chase of the target species along with different ways of catching it (Bjordal, 2002).
4.2. Bottom Trawl – a type of trawl which consists of a large tapered net with a mouth and an enclosed end. Its net has two weighed doors which keeps the net on the ocean floor open; a thick metal cable, known as footrope, studded with heavy steel balls or rubber bobbins that effectively crush everything in their path (Oceana, N.D.).
4.2 Illegal Fishing– means fishing activities conducted by Philippine fishing vessels operating in violation of Philippine laws, Regional Fisheries Management Organization resolutions, and laws of other coastal states.
4.3 Municipal Waters – include not only streams, lakes, inland bodies of water and tidal waters within the municipality which are not included within the protected areas as defined under Republic Act No. 7586 (The NIPAS Law), public forest, timber lands, forest reserves or fishery reserves, but also marine waters included between two (2. lines drawn perpendicular to the general coastline from points where the boundary lines of the municipality touch the sea at low tide and a third line parallel with the general coastline including offshore islands and fifteen (15. kilometers from such coastline. Where two (2. municipalities are so situated on opposite shores that there is less than thirty (30. kilometers of marine waters between them, the third line shall be equally distant from the opposite shore of the respective municipalities.
4.4 Small-scale Commercial Fishing – fishing with passive or active gear utilizing fishing vessels 3.1 gross tons (GT) up to twenty (20) gross tons.
4.5 Trawl– an active fishing gear consisting of a bag shaped net with or without otter boards to open its opening which is dragged or towed along the bottom or through the water column to take fishery species by straining them from the water, including all variations and modifications of trawls (bottom, mid-water, and baby trawls) and tow nets. Trawls and dredges are in principle netting bags that are towed through the water to catch different target species in their path. During fishing, the trawl entrance or trawl opening must be kept open. With beam trawls and dredges this is done by mounting the trawl bag on a rigid frame or beam (Bjordal, 2002).
- RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
5.1. Changes and differences between RA 8550 and RA 10654
Fishery specific policies in the country were not apparent until 1932 when the first Fisheries Act was introduced placing fisheries management under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Aquino et. al, 2013). According to Aquino (et. al, 2013) however, despite such act, fishing commercial operators remained unregulated which led to the promulgation of Presidential Decree No. 534 in 1974 which instituted high penalties for extreme cases of illegal fishing.
Finally, in 1998, Republic Act 8550 or the Fisheries Code of 1998 was passed. This was described as the response to exploitation of fishery resources and to achieve food security and to address the issues of degradation and continued depletion of resources especially as these affect the livelihood of fisherfolk. The law was meant to regulate resources for sustainable maintenance of fishery and aquatic resources that would be in conformity with integral coastal area management in specific natural fishery management areas (Aquino et. al, 2013). As reported by the Philippine National Police – Maritime Group, it aimed to limit access to the fishery and aquatic resources of the Philippines for the exclusive enjoyment of Filipino citizens. This was also to protect the rights of municipal fisherfolk especially in utilizing municipal waters as it urges the government to prioritize municipal fisherfolk. On February 27, 2015, RA 8550 was amended by Republic Act No. 10654, also known as An Act to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. Generally, its goal was to reinforce the penalties to further decrease and hopefully eradicate illegal fishing methods. It further aims to mandate more efficient approaches that could provide solutions to the issues on overexploitation of natural resources, particularly those that are covered by the fisheries sector that were overlooked upon on the RA 8550. The legislators and groups pushing for this amendment have identified issues that are left unaddressed by the previous act.
The amended Fisheries code focuses on the strict implementation of the law with regards to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. It aims to mandate more efficient approaches that could provide solutions to the issues on overexploitation of natural resources, particularly those that are covered by the fisheries sector that seemed to be overlooked upon in RA 8550. The legislators and groups pushing for this amendment have identified issues that are left unaddressed by the previous republic act.
Throughout history, the depletion of our fishery resources are highly observable. Fisherfolk reported huge decline in catch rate due to unsustainable and illegal fishing practices which may have been triggered by the increasing demand for fish consumption. According to some scientists, we have already reached our maximum sustainable yield in the 80’s which is a quite alarming situation for fisherfolk organizations and government agencies. The RA 10654 addresses this issue by requiring a harvest control mechanisms that shall limit fishing efforts depending on the health of the fishing grounds.
Moreover, a lot of commercial fishing vessels with more advanced gears and bigger boats trespasses the area allocated for municipal fishing vessels owned by small-scale fisherfolk. This places the less-privileged fishers at a disadvantage, especially that most commercial fisherfolk fish illegally and edge out fishermen who can’t compete. This offense hinders small-scale fishermen to increase their income and are thus, left to be one of the poorest sectors of society.
In order to ensure that strict compliance to the rules are observed, higher fines for the violators have been hailed as a significant deterrent against illegal fishing practices. RA 10654 reiterates that the illegal fishers have to face the consequences of their actions at a much higher stake. Fines could reach up to millions as legislators believe that these are payments for plundering and destroying the marine ecosystem and biodiversity which may take decades before they can fully recover.
While the law is clear and commendable in theory, it may seem quite far-fetched for the local government units to implement. Being the ones having full jurisdiction over the municipal waters, they are vested with the responsibility of overseeing their territory and to protect it from those who attempt to exploit their resources against the mandate of the law. Taking into consideration the economic status and capacity to pay of their residents, some LGUs have passed ordinances that sets reasonable amount of fines for those who try to violate it.
On November 28, 2018, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) promulgated Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 2018-03 which gave guidelines on strengthening the implementation of the ban on bottom trawl operations within municipal waters. It covered all cities and municipalities in the Philippines and was directed to all, City and Municipal Mayors, Sanggunians at all levels, Municipal and City Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils (M/CFARMCs), Municipal Agriculture Officers (MAOs), Public Employment and Service Officers (PESOs) or their equivalent, and others concerned (JMC No. 2018-03, 3.0 Scope and Coverage).
Generally, the amendment was aimed to strengthen the implementation of penalties and further regulate and promote the welfare of municipal fishers through sustainable methods and limitations of access to the country’s resources. the amendments and revisions done in RA 8550 seeks to protect our natural resources from anyone who irresponsibly try to exploit it. Commercial fishers appear to be the ones greatly affected by the changes made as the law prioritizes the less privileged members of the fishing sector. Nevertheless, the main aim of RA 10654 is to create a much more efficient and effective set of rules geared towards strict implementation. This is to safeguard people’s livelihood and ensure that there is a continuous supply of fish for them in years to come.
According to our resource speaker, Bacolod City observes strict implementation of the total ban of bottom trawl fishing. He also mentioned regulations with regard to fishing gear that may be used such as the size of the mesh which can be used by the fishers. He also mentioned that there have been commercial fishing vessels that violate the ban of bottom trawls, even small-scale fishermen with merely two people manage to attempt bottom trawl fishing. He states that they are strictly apprehended.
As for their punishment, other than apprehension, under ordinances, they are fined around 4,000 PHP to 12,000 PHP. As much as possible, they avoid bringing such penalties and cases to the courts as penalties would go towards the national government while under ordinances, penalties go directly to the city.
5.2. Environmental impacts of bottom trawl fishing
Bottom trawl nets are used to catch shrimp and fish living on the seafloor from shallow coastal waters to extreme depths of 6,000 feet or roughly 2 kilometres (Morgan and Chuenpagdee, 2003, as cited in Stiles et. al, 2010). It is described to be one of the most indiscriminate types of fishing because the small mesh used to retain the shrimp allows few other animals to escape (Kelleher, 2005 as cited in Stiles et. al, 2010). Stiles (et. al, 2010) stated that bottom trawling often leads to overfishing because the gear is not selective and discards a lot of dead fish.
According to Roberts (2005), when the weighted nets and trawl doors are dragged along the seafloor, everything in their path is disturbed or destroyed, including sea grass, coral reefs or rock gardens where fish hide from predators.
Kelleher (2005) states that bottom trawling is one of the most destructive ways to catch fish, and is responsible for up to half of all discarded fish and marine life worldwide. To illustrate this, Reilly (2002) found that bottom trawling for spot prawns threw away nine times as much by-catch as more selective fishing gear. Scientists in Mexico have also estimated that for every pound of shrimp caught, between fur and ten pounds of marine resources are thrown away (Harrington et. al, 2005 as cited in Stiles et. al, 2010).
Bottom trawl fishing, even though regarded by some to be beneficial as it is an effective way to achieve a bigger catch composition, is highly detrimental to our ecosystem and poses greater threats to biodiversity. Due to its non-selective nature, this type of fishing method increases the rate of fish depletion in the area, which may eventually lead to an ecosystem overfishing.
An aquatic environment abundant in coral reefs are greatly at stake in bottom trawling. As mentioned earlier, this destructive fishing gear drags the seafloor and everything that it passes may be destroyed. In an attempt to provide a solution to this problem, the City Agriculture Office of Bacolod deploys thousands of 4×4 cube structures in Brgy. Tangub to serve as artificial reefs. This structure is designed to support the growth of a new reef-like ecosystem and prevent the possibility of getting dragged by bottom trawls due to its sturdy and heavy character.
5.3. Factors that affect the enforcement and implementation of the ban on trawl operation
Philippine small-scale fisheries, especially in the local communities and municipal waters, require a more careful implementation of the ban on trawl fishing since its proliferation has not waned despite various prohibitions. It is then important to inquire as to why such proliferation persists in spite of governmental efforts in amending and enforcing Republic Act 10654 In determining the factors that affect the implementation of the Philippine laws on the ban on trawl fishing, it is imperative to first understand the weight of such factors.
According to (Sphoer, 1984), communities, such as local ones, that are specialized in fishing are not economically self-sufficient and highly dependent on markets external to the community. He further added that the degree to which no alternative occupations are available to provide income for fisherfolks in rural fishing communities in the Visayas must be taken into a much deeper consideration. This is why despite the laws on banning illegal fishing, some fishing communities still use trawl fishing without much regard to the negative impacts it entails because these fisherfolks only strive to support themselves and their families, and labor migration is not much of an alternative for them as well.
Another notable factor that we have identified from our data is the lack of access to information pertaining to the laws on banning trawl fishing. Some fisherfolks contend that they have no knowledge about the amended law on illegal fishing and that their actions are punishable. (Sphoer, 1984) explains that local communities may not possess either the technology or the organizational skills to shift to full-time fishing, even though the resources are adequate. This just goes to show that technology provides an avenue for accessible information when it comes to law dissemination. Unfortunately, rural fishing communities lack such opportunity. This further supports our analysis that access to information through technology plays a vital role in complying with the laws enforced by our government.
Regarding the roles and responsibilities of the Local Government Units in implementing and enforcing such laws on illegal fishing, it is noteworthy to examine the scope of their part in the process. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR), in a Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2018-03, clarifies and specifies the roles and responsibilities of the LGUs, DILG, and BFAR in conserving and protecting municipal waters from the adverse ecological and socioeconomic impacts of trawl fishing. JMC No. 2018-03 mandates governmental constituents involved to exercise primary jurisdiction in enforcing fishery policies and laws in their respective localities and collaborate with the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in conducting enforcement operations for implementing such laws.
In the present case, however, much of these mandates are not efficiently complied with because of constraints such as manpower and budget allocation, not to mention the time and resources needed to achieve such purpose. These shortcomings result in an adverse effect which greatly impact the enforcement of such laws.
- CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
Managing fishery resources and aquatic environment requires the collaborative effort of the government and its people and different organizations. The City of Bacolod, with the help of its city council has created ordinances and organizations that aim to save, protect and conserve the fishery resources and regulate fishing activities, including bottom trawl fishing. Following the mandate provided by law, the City Agriculture Office made notable efforts in strengthening the ban of the use of active fishing gear, such as the bottom-trawl, within the scope of its municipal water jurisdiction. Taking into consideration the status of living of these violators, the city issued an ordinance providing for a reasonable penalty against those who engage in such fishing methods within their jurisdiction. However, some ordinances were not strictly implemented due to certain limitations including the inconsistency of our national laws and lack of funds which results to poor reinforcements and untrained law enforcement officers.
Also, political interventions were observed upon the apprehension of violators of the law in the City which allows violators to easily run away from their penalties and fines. With these, the effectiveness of the policies are often jeopardized.
Furthermore, the involvement of the community and the non-government organizations are essential. Intensive information dissemination and spreading awareness urges the sense of responsibility of the people to further conserve and protect their environment knowing that their main source of livelihood was at risk of further degradation.
Thus, it is important to further assess the effectiveness of the ordinances and programs and to train and improve law enforcement officers to be more functional and effective in terms of implementing these ordinances. Fisherfolk usually contends that they have no knowledge of the existence of laws and policies concerning the ban on bottom-trawl fishing. Hence, further information dissemination to the fishing community and the people in the city may help spread awareness towards strengthening of the implementation of the law in Bacolod City. The lack of funds must also be addressed to the National Government for them to provide assistance, and the partnership of the concerned government agencies and private stakeholders may further improve implementing and enforcing fishery policies such as the ban on bottom-trawl fishing in municipal waters.
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Bottom Trawling. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://usa.oceana.org/bottom-trawling?fbclid=IwAR2aiMVFQYxiWZBgzjk_WUPqGE3FJtCCiVGAmpVRBENJQooQmR1mTlq8
Philippine Statistics Authority. (2016). Population of Negros Island Region (Based on the 2015 Census of Population). Retrieved from https://psa.gov.ph/population-and-housing/node/57864?fbclid=IwAR1hcqAOyKDD7c0afXI-KcXlB4GmPxH8Fs2risQQLUfaStGEG-j66thFMUs
Rodriguez , M. P. (2017). Review of Selected Philippine Policies and Laws on Fisheries and the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-scale Fisheries (VGSSF). Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Inc. Retrieved from http://angoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Philippine-Fisheries-Laws-and-Policies-and-the-VGSSF.pdf
Sphoer, A. (1984). Change in Philippine Capture Fisheries: A Historical Overview. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/29791813?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Stiles, M. L., Stockbridge, J., Lande, M., & Hirshfield, M. F. (2010). Impacts of Bottom Trawling. Oceana. Retrieved from https://oceana.org/sites/default/files/reports/Trawling_BZ_10may10_toAudrey.pdf
We humbly express our gratitude to the following persons who made this research paper possible:
To the City Agriculture Office of Bacolod City, for providing us great assistance and service before and during the conduct of our interview, most especially to Atty. Goldwyn Nifras, for rendering his time and effort to grace us with his presence during the interview and for generously sharing his valuable expertise and knowledge to supplement our understanding of the law;
To our Legal Research professor, Atty. Jocelle Batapa-Sigue, for giving us a wonderful opportunity to broaden our knowledge and for her patience and guidance all throughout this process;
To our families and friends who continuously inspire us to rise in every fall and to find joy and purpose in everything we do, you are the ones who keep us going;
Finally, we would like to give our utmost gratitude to the Heavenly Father for being our main source of strength and for being our provider, to You we give back all the glory! – THE RESEARCHERS
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
The authors of this study are currently first year Juris Doctor Students from the University of St. La Salle, College of Law. As aspiring lawyers, they have decided to take on the topic on the ban of trawl fishing.
Rachel Lois Gella graduated from the University of the Philippines Visayas with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Community Development. She currently works at the City Legal Office of Talisay, Negros Occidental.
Anne Mary Louise Ongsuco graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of the Philippines Visayas.
Keziah Joy Roa is a Registered Fisheries Professional who also earned her bachelor’s degree in Fisheries from the University of the Philippines Visayas in 2018.
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