Senator: IUU risks transforming Philippines’ tuna-rich seas into ‘virtual deserts’

Date: November 13, 2017

Source: Undercurrent News
Author: Matilde Mereghetti

Philippines senator Cynthia Villar warned that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing risks to destroy the country’s tuna industry, as president Rodrigo Duterte is to press Chinese president Xi Jinping on a code of conduct for the sea.

In a speech at the Philippines’ national tuna conference in September, later republished on her blog, Villar said that the Philippines’ seas are at risk of becoming “virtual deserts” by 2050.

Based on a 2010 census of marine life, 90% of the large fish in the country’s waters are already depleted due to over-fishing, she pointed out.

Villar, who is the chairperson of the senate committee on agriculture and food, said she was looking forward to “reviewing the draft of the plan as well as the various inputs and recommendations of industry players on the [new] national tuna management plan”.

The “new law provides stricter guidelines and higher penalties for illegal fishers”, Villar said. “By increasing the penalty against illegal fishing activities, we are not only discouraging people to commit these acts, we are also putting up a fund that will help the fisheries sector—25% of the fund will be allocated to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for fishery law enforcement and 75% will be allotted to provide assistance to poor fisherfolks,” she said.

“There is no question that the tuna industry has a promising future potential as it remains a top export commodity of the country,” Villar added.

Illegal fishing in the country’s waters, carried out by Chinese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese vessels, affects all fish stocks, including tuna and pelagics, local sources told Undercurrent News earlier this year.

Ongoing negotiations

However, so far,  president Duterte has aimed to negotiate with China, prioritizing talks on trade and investments to issues related to fishing and the South China Sea, sources told Undercurrent earlier this year.

“Philippines cannot afford a war with the major maritime power in the region, so we need to talk,” one of the sources pointed out in May.

Philippine’s president said earlier this year he was open to exploring the South China Sea’s natural resources with rival claimants China and Vietnam, after securing a “windfall” while in Beijing.

New media reports said that President Duterte intends to press China to ratify the code of conduct on the South China Sea as he questioned Beijing’s moves to fortify disputed islands in the contested area.

Duterte said he would push the issue when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting on Nov. 11, Philstar reported.

At a press briefing, Duterte stressed that he had developed good relations with China and he wanted to nurture this. “I do not want to lose the friendship of China,” he said, Philstar reported.

But being this year’s chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Duterte said he must put forward the interests of the claimant countries, which include Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei Darrussalam.

Now that The Philippines’ government has declared victory over Islamic State group-aligned militants who laid siege to the city of Marawi and the peace process is moving forward, Duterte now possesses the opportunity to push forward the Philippines’ maritime interests, Evan Rees, an Asia-Pacific analyst with the Texas-based think tank Stratfor, said, according to Voanews.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion in goods passes each year, according to Voanews analysis.

Meanwhile, Duterte was set to raise the topic of tuna processing rights with Papua New Guinean prime minister Peter O’Neill, according to the Inquirer.

Papua New Guinea is under pressure not to implement a directive which would prevent The Philippines from processing tuna caught from its seas.

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