COMMERCIAL fishing vessels in the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS) are now required to install the Vessel Monitoring Measures (VMM) transponder as required by law under Republic Act (RA) 10654.


The VMM transponder is a vessel tracking device that allows real-time monitoring of a particular boat’s location through a web-based platform, said Danny Ocampo, the oceans campaign manager of Oceana-Philippines, a non-government group that is largely campaigning against illegal commercial fishing in the Tañon Strait. Tañon Strait is a huge body of water bounded by Cebu and Negros Islands, with some 40 local government units from Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and Cebu benefiting from the strait’s rich marine resources.


The VMM, also known as Vessel Monitoring System or VMS, would strengthen coordinated efforts among government agencies and private partners to ensure the protection and preservation of Tañon Strait, the country’s largest marine protected area and to address illegal fishing in the country, Ocampo said.


He said the Protected Area Management Board (Pamb) had decided to implement the law on VMM this January even as the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 10654 had stalled at the national level, since TSPS was under its (Pamb) jurisdiction.


In line with this, the partner technology developer, Fame Transponders, installed on January 9 and 10 gateways or antenna-like transceivers in Escalante and San Carlos in Negros Occidental, as well as in Bais City and San Jose in Negros Oriental in preparation for the eventual full implementation of the law, Ocampo said. The TSPS was the first MPA in the Philippines requiring the VMM for all commercial fishing vessels that were transiting, docking, anchoring, and/or home-ported within the strait, he added.


There were at least 50 commercial fishing vessels home-ported in the Tañon Strait, said Ocampo. As part of the implementation process, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in Central Visayas already conducted prior information campaigns to inform owners and operators of commercial fishing vessels regarding the installation of the vessel monitoring transponders, he added.


The transponder was not for sale but released on a “rent-to-own” scheme where, after three years of subscription with Fame, it became the property of the fishing vessel owner.


Ocampo said that Oceana was offering a free one-year subscription for the Fame transponders to commercial fishing vessels with gross tonnage of 3.1 to 20 as a means to help fishermen acquire the device.


After the first year, the vessel owner has an option to return the unit to the technology developer or continue with the remaining two years of subscription.


The dashboard/monitoring mechanism through the Internet is similar to a mobile phone, where a subscriber has to pay for “load” to acquire a signal, which transmits information from the fishing vessel to the gateway then to Cloud and from there, these can be accessed on the web through a laptop, a mobile phone, or even a tablet, Ocampo said.


The website is not for public use and only those with a password can access it, and for TSPS, it is the Protected Area Office that can monitor the commercial fishing vessels within the strait. Eventually, though, the BFAR will be able to access all VMMs in the country, said Ocampo.


He said they already secured an initial list from the BFAR-Central Visayas of the commercial fishing vessels operating in the Tañon Strait.


Those that were also simply “passing through” the strait would still require a VMM, otherwise they would be apprehended by authorities, he said.


Ocampo lauded the Tañon Strait Pamb and its partners for seriously implementing the law on VMMs as part of continued efforts to combat illegal fishing in the strait and to set an example on park reform and protected area management.


The law would eventually require all commercial and municipal fishing vessels to install VMMs but for now, the commercial fishing vessels would be prioritized to manage commercial fishing, he added. (PNA)

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