The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR), led by its officer-in-charge Director Nestor D. Domenden, welcomed delegates of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN-FAO) on Monday, August 15, at the BFAR Central Office in Quezon City.

The UN-FAO delegates, composed of Ms. Teresa Amador, Mr. Kim Stobberup, and Mr. Peter Southen, are in the country to assist BFAR in implementing the Port State Measures (PSMA) to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and fishing-related activities (2020-2024) and in strengthening the policy, legal, and institutional frameworks for fisheries management, monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) and enforcement in the Philippine waters.

In April 2019, the Bureau, with the support of the FAO and the Republic of Korea, conducted a gap assessment workshop to identify the Philippine’s capacity to implement the 2009 FAO PSMA to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing which resulted in a national strategy and roadmap.

The 2009 PSMA is the first binding international agreement which specifically targets cases of IUU fishing. Its objective is to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing on a global scale by prohibiting vessels engaged in such activities from using ports and landing their catches.

Meanwhile, in 2020, BFAR prepared a work plan to strengthen the Philippine’s capacity to combat IUU fishing after identifying the gaps in the country’s policy, legal, and institutional frameworks on MCS and enforcement capabilities during the assessment workshop conducted. However, the implementation of the said work plan was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To estimate the country’s overall IUU fishing risk exposure, the Bureau conducted assessments from 2020 to 2021 in 160 cities and municipalities in nine of the 12 Philippine fishing management areas (FMAs). Results of which are indicated in the 2021 Philippine IUU Fishing Assessment Report.

The assessment report, which utilizes the IUU Fishing Index and Threat Assessment (I-FIT) Tool developed by BFAR and USAID Fish Right, shows that the country has an overall moderate risk with the following scores in IUU fishing index, vulnerability, prevalence, and response: 2.58, 2.51, 2.53, and 2.76.

Moreover, IUU fishing is observed to be decreasing as nearly half of the 160 surveyed LGUs rated as having fairly strong enforcement teams while 52 percent of the LGUs are said to be on a downward trend in the reported magnitude of IUU fishing from 2020 to 2021.

“Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing remains a primary challenge faced by our fisheries sector. That is why the Philippine government, through the DA-BFAR, takes this mission as an opportunity to optimize our policies and regulations in order to more effectively address this challenge that threatens the sustainability of our resources supporting our vibrant economy and fisheries industry,” Director Domenden said.

The delegates’ mission commences with a series of consultations with BFAR and other national agencies from August 16 to 18. The consultations include discussions on the implementation of PSMA, fisheries and maritime surveillance and enforcement, and the policy and legal framework for the PSMA implementation.

The national agencies which will engage in the consultations are the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority (PFDA), Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Quarantine, Bureau of Animal Industry, Bureau of Plant Industry, Philippine Coast Guard, National Coast Watch Council, DOJ-National Prosecution Service, National Bureau of Investigation, Center on Transnational Crime, Philippine National Police–Maritime Group, and the Philippine Port Authority.

The delegates, meanwhile, will conduct an ocular visit at the National Coast Watch Centre in Manila and at BFAR’s Fisheries Monitoring Center or the Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System project center on August 19.

The mission will conclude in General Santos City wherein delegates will visit the General Santos Fish Port Complex, Igloo Cold Storage, PhilBest Canning Corporation, and the BFAR region 12 satellite office and will meet with BFAR and PFDA officials from August 22 to 23.