Gov't still clueless how much PH is losing to IUU

The threat of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Philippines is estimated at P5 trillion annually, but there is just no exact way to measure how much the country is really losing from this.

Rollan Geronimo, IUU Fishing Specialist for the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Fish Right Project.

Rollan Geronimo, IUU Fishing Specialist for the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Fish Right Project, said in an interview that while the amended Philippine Fisheries Code or Republic Act (RA) 10654 aims to curb IUU, there’s still no exact way to measure its impact. 

“IUU is threatening the sustainability of fisheries resources. It is a critical issue in the Philippines. It undermines the efforts being done to improve the management of our fisheries resources,” Geronimo said.

“The aim of the amended fisheries code is to curb this, but we don’t have metrics yet to measure how we are doing… If you don’t know how much is being taken, you are assuming you have more fish in the ocean but it is unreported. The unregulated, on the other hand, is not necessarily illegal but they should be closely monitored because they might become a threat to the sustainability of our fisheries,” he added.

The rough estimate is that the Philippines is losing US$101.8 billion or nearly P5 trillion every year due to IUU, based on a study made by Rhodora Azanza, professor emeritus at the Marine Science Institute of University of the Philippines (UP).  

This includes US$99.2 billion losses due to blast fishing, US$189 million due to overfishing, US$1.2 billion due to poaching, and US$1.14 billion to post-harvest losses.

This is enough to feed around 281 million Filipinos for an entire year, according to USAID.

Erniel Barrios, professor at University of the Philippines School of Statistics.

Erniel Barrios, professor at University of the Philippines School of Statistics, said that what the country has right now in terms of fish catch data collection are only the number of fishing vessels registered at Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) as well as the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) data on fish output, which is only based on what is being reported at fish landing centers.

Both data are important, Barrios said, but they don’t really capture the exact number as to how much of the fish catch came from illegal and unregulated fishing and there is still no number as to how many unregistered commercial and small fishing vessels there are in the Philippine ocean.

As part of their ongoing advocacy to combat IUU fishing, BFAR and USAID have recently conducted an IUU Quantification Workshop with 135 field workers and experts in the fisheries sector to develop more comprehensive and science-based methods to monitor and control the loss.

This exercise is one of many initiatives brought by the partnership between the Philippine and US governments, with the aim to ensure the country’s food security, marine biodiversity, enforce maritime security, and protect the welfare of local fisherfolk.

This partnership between BFAR and USAID is a good start for the Philippine government to finally have a clue on how much IUU is costing the country, according to Geronimo.

However, he said it may still take a while, or about two years, before a more comprehensive data on IUU will be gathered and developed. 

As for Barrios, he said an exact data on IUU’s financial repercussions on the Philippines will significantly help the national government and lawmakers to decide how much resources should be allocated for the enforcement of fisheries laws.  

“The reason why we need to quantify the IUU is because we need to know how much we are looking at. We may realize that the loss is too massive compared to our efforts to curb it,” Barrios said. “We need to spend more on better technology and better resources”.