Understanding the Law of the Waters, Part 1

Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Fish has become a staple in the Filipino diet because of the supply that can be harvested from the vast waters that surround the country. And like most natural resources, it should be preserved and developed for the benefit of the population.

Back in 1998, Republic Act no. 8550, widely known as “The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998,” was passed. Its main purpose is to allot resources for the development, management, and conservation of fisheries and other aquatic resources of the country.

This law was crafted to limit access of the fishery and other marine resources to the exclusive use of Filipinos. It also ensures the development as well as the preservation of sea and those that dwell within it. 

RA 8550 protects the rights of fisherfolk and gives them access to the municipal waters.

RA 8550 was also created to protect the rights of fisherfolk such as their advantage in the country’s municipal waters where they can exercise the Maximum Sustainable Yield, the maximum level where a natural resource can be routinely exploited without long-term depletion.

Amending the Code

But with the abundance of aquatic resources, there is also room for exploitation of these assets.

Such abusive practices involve fishing using harmful chemicals or dynamite, and bottom trawling which is usually exercised by commercial fishers since they disrupt the seafloor to catch fish.

To prevent these atrocities, Republic Act no. 10654 was ratified in 2014 to amend the preceding Fisheries Code of 1998. RA 10654 was created to prevent illegal fishing and enact penalties accordingly.

New Additions

With the goal of combating illegal fishing within the country, there are several salient features of the amendment to help strengthen the code.

These features include the following:

  • Determine the area’s carrying capacity along with the number of fishing vessels allowed to operate based on reference points and harvest control rules.
    • Reference Points are a set of indicators that describes the level of exploitation, status of the fisheries, or biological characteristics used as a standard for regulatory purposes.
    • On the other hand, Harvest Control Rules are regulatory measures enacted to ensure that the target reference point is achieved while the limit reference point is avoided.
  • Commercial fishing vessels are required to keep a daily record of their catch, spoilage, effort, and other information on catch and disposal.
  • Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) System requires vessels to have a vessel monitoring system to track and monitor the position, course, and speed of the vessels at any given time for the purpose of managing fishing effort for traceability.
  • A legal remedy, known as the Citizen’s suit, to promote the people’s right to participate in decision-making, enhance civil and political rights, and ensure implementation of law.
  • Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) measure where the enforcers and citizens who push for fishery reforms can use the defense of SLAPP in cases filed to purposely harass, chill, or vex  them.
  • A total of 21 prohibited acts, such as unregulated and unreported fishing, were added to the Fisheries Code.
  • Harsher penalties will be exacted for violations where fines could reach up to P90 million for unreported fishing.

The Scope of the Code and its Amendments

Like all laws, they have a jurisdiction on where they can take effect. The Philippine Fisheries Code of 2018, along with the amendments from RA 10654, are applicable in the following:

  • All Philippine waters, whether inland, coastal, or offshore.
  • All lands, private or public, devoted to aquaculture.
  • 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.
  • All Philippine flagged fishing vessel operating in areas governed by Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO).

The amendments have already taken effect since March 23, 2015 after it was published in a newspaper of general circulation.

Government bodies such as regular courts, Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Adjudication Committee, and the Office of the Ombudsman have authority to exact penalties to violations committed against the amendment.

All in all, RA 10654 was created to monitor the municipal waters, the number of vessels allowed to operate in them, and the prohibited acts along with its penalties should they be violated.

But what are municipal waters and how can we know if a body of water is considered as one? The second part of this article will explain all you need to know about those areas as well as the people who have authority over such.

For more information, visit DA-BFAR.

Click for Part 2.

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Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Patricia Taculao, or Patty as she likes to be called, is a content producer for Manila Bulletin Digital Lifestyle. She graduated from University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She loves to spend her free time, reading, painting, and watching old movies.

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