Visayan Sea - Yo Manila

“We are alarmed to find probable illegal fishing activities in the Visayan Sea during the enforcement of the three-month closed fishing season,” lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, said today as the Visayan Sea closed fishing season ended.

Oceana, the largest international organization working exclusively to protect and restore the world’s oceans, analyses data from satellite sensor called Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) to detect by satellites, in a supposedly dark environment such as large bodies of water, artificial light sources like superlights. These are likely used by fishing boats such as purse seiners and ring netters and were found inside the prohibited area and in this case, the Visayan Sea covered by the closed fishing season order.

The closed season was observed from November 15, 2018 to February 15, 2019 in the Visayan Sea. It is enforced every year through the Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 167-3, prohibiting the catching, killing, selling or possessing the sexually mature, young, fry or larvae of herring, mackerel and sardines, the three most common and abundant group of fish caught in the Visayan Sea.

According to the VIIRS data during the three-month period prior to the Visayan Sea closed season, on August 16 to November 14, 2018, the monthly average of lights detected in the delineated area were 142. Whereas, during the three month closed season on November 15, 2018 – February 14, 2019, the monthly average were 48.

These were detected in the Visayan Sea off Iloilo, in the municipalities of Carles, Concepcion, Barotac Viejo, and Aruy; Cadiz City, Negros Occidental; and in Madridejos and Bantayan in Cebu.

“We found probable illegal fishing activities in the Visayan Sea during the closed season period based on the data gathered from VIIRS. While their presence decreased, we can see that probable intrusion in the prohibited areas continued in the period of November to February,” said Ramos. Oceana is promoting the use of VIIRS to monitor fishing activities in municipal waters and closed fishing grounds to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

“VIIRS data is essential for enforcement of fisheries law and the sustainable management of fisheries. These data can be used, apart from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, by the Department of Interior and Local Government and local government units to strictly enforce closed season in the fishing grounds in their jurisdiction,” Ramos said. Ramos explained that the closed fishing season gave tunsoy and tamban, the major sardine species found in the Visayan Sea a “resting period” from fishing pressure, to spawn and reproduce.

“We support the enforcement of seasonal fishery closures. However, the catching of juveniles and the race-to-fish after the closed season are significant threats to the population of sardines. Aside from the closed season intervention, we reiterate the need for other management measures to address these threats. We need to enforce regulations on gears, such as, fine mesh nets that catch juveniles and lie low on the fishing pressure and of course, the much-needed implementation of the vessel monitoring requirement for all commercial fishing vessels, from 3.1 gross tonnage and up, pursuant to RA 10654, which amended the Fisheries Code in 2015,” Ramos added.

Oceana earlier lauded the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for declaring major fishing grounds in the country as fisheries management areas (FMA), a move seen to prevent overfishing by mainstreaming science-based management.

“Beyond the declaration of closed season, we urge the coastal local government units to implement the DILG Circular regulating fisheries activities in municipal waters nationwide and to support the implementation of the Visayan Sea Management Framework, and the National Sardine Management Framework Plan. These management measures will address the depleting fish stocks and help improve the income and livelihood of artisanal fisherfolk,” said Ramos. Oceana has been working with stakeholders in the Visayan Sea, one of the major fishing grounds for sardine fisheries in the country, as a pilot-site for FMAs. Appropriate reference points and harvest control rules in the sardine-rich region have been developed, a first for any fishing ground nationwide.