LOOK: Why Government Suspension on Vessel Monitoring Worries Tuna Industry

Despite having a large production, the current government suspension can jeopardize not only the industry but also the country’s biggest market for fish and seafood products.

Within the first quarter of 2023, the production of fisheries reached 991.14 thousand metric tons, which is an increase of 2% compared to the production of the same period last year. And although a lot of our fish products go to the European Union (EU), that might be put into jeopardy because of a government suspension. 

The local tuna industry, in particular, is asking the government to lift its suspension on the Vessel Monitoring Measures (VVM) for commercial fishing vessels, which falls under the Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 266. This suspension affects the requirement that commercial vessels should have monitoring devices. It was put into effect due to a memorandum that was signed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.

The memo, which was directed to the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), gave the instruction “to hold in abeyance the implementation of FAO No. 266 nationwide, pending the final resolution over its constitutionality by the Supreme Court.”

Why the Tuna Industry Wants the Suspension Lifted

The suspension has fueled fears in the tuna industry, especially as it aims to avoid a ban on Philippine tuna by the EU. As part of its requirements, the EU prefers that its trading partners comply with applicable international treaties. This includes one restricting Illegal, Unreported, and Unrestricted Fishing.”

“We are worried that the suspension of vessel monitoring measures to ensure transparency in fisheries will put our tuna exports at risk,” says the Chairman of the Gulf of Lagonoy Tuna Fishers Federation, Inc. Atenogenes Reaso. 

Environmental group Oceana has also raised concerns that the suspension may lead to the EU issuing another yellow card warning to the Philippines. According to the European Commission, the yellow card is “an official warning issued by the European Union to trading partners falling short of tackling illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.” 

The Philippines was previously issued a yellow card in 2014, which was only lifted after the Republic Act No. 10654 or the Amended Fisheries Code was passed and became enacted into a law. 

Why This is a Cause of Concern

Given that the EU is the country’s biggest market for both fish and seafood products, a possible yellow card will greatly affect our exports to the region. There are 27 member states in the EU and all these individual markets will be affected—should the country be issued a yellow card. 

This, in turn, will greatly affect tuna fisheries around the country and, most especially, the livelihood of fishermen. Moreover, there is no guarantee that existing international buyers will want to buy fish and seafood products from the Philippines, given that a shortage in supply may prompt them to find other options or suppliers.