DA gears for reopening of bilateral talks with Indonesia on fisheries cooperation (Philippines News Agency)

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is hoping to begin informal bilateral negotiations soon with Indonesia for the possible forging of a new fisheries cooperation agreement.

Lawyer Asis Perez, DA undersecretary for fisheries and director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said they have created a technical working group (TWG) that will lead the informal exploratory discussions on potential areas of cooperation with Indonesia concerning fisheries.

He said the creation of the TWG was an offshoot of the initial talks in Jakarta last April between Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti.

Both officials agreed to create their own TWGs that will mainly be tasked to explore and discuss the details of the proposed fisheries cooperation, he said.

Perez also said they already submitted a list of the officials who will constitute the country’s TWG to the Indonesian government.

For our part, we did our homework already. We’re currently waiting for Indonesia to also submit the names of the representatives to their own TWG, he said in an interview at the sidelines of the 17th National Tuna Congress in the city.

Once the two TWGs are set, he said they will immediately arrange the opening of the informal talks, which the Philippines will volunteer to host.

Sec. Alcala sought for the reopening of the bilateral negotiations with Indonesia in response to the clamor of tuna fishing companies and other industry players.

Indonesia had tightened its fishery regulations following the expiration of its six-year bilateral fishing agreement with the Philippines in 2006.

Under the previous deal, Philippine tuna fleets were allowed to catch tuna and tuna-like species within the Indonesian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

It provided licenses to the Philippines for 75 catcher vessels, 150 fish carriers, 20 long liners, 300 light boats, and 10 single purse seiners, and allowed access to the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas of the Indonesian EEZ. It also provided offloading and re-supply access to 10 Indonesian ports.

The expiration of the bilateral fishing agreement with Indonesia is major concern in terms of sustainability for the local tuna industry since its traditional fishing grounds fall under the largest archipelago-nation’s territorial waters.

However, Perez said the industry clarified that the possible fisheries cooperation deal might not include provisions on fishing access.

He said Indonesia mainly agreed to reopen the negotiations but stressed that the Philippines should not think that it will allow fishing access.

They told us not to look at the negotiations that way but rather look at other avenues where we can cooperate and mutually benefit, he said.

Tuna industry players here expressed support to the national government’s moves to reopen the negotiations with Indonesia and requested it to expedite the process.

In a resolution, the SOCCSKSARGEN Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII) urged the government to pursue a cooperation deal that would secure the investments of Filipino companies in Indonesia.

Several companies based in the city have existing joint fishing venture and tuna canning operations in Indonesia.

Joaquin Lu, SFFAII president, said that in November last year, Indonesia imposed a moratorium on fishing licenses based on Regulation No. 56 issued by its Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry.

He said the regulation provided that the stricter measure was aimed to ensure responsible fishing activities and to eradicate the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) in Indonesian fishing waters.

The moratorium was set from Nov. 3, 2014 to April 30, 2015 but was later extended until Oct. 31.

Lu said the moratorium made it impossible for foreign companies engaging in fishing activities in Indonesian waters and are using fishing vessels manufactured abroad, to obtain the necessary approvals to commence and continue their business.

As a result, a number of our fishing vessels have temporarily suspended operations in Indonesia while waiting for a clarification on these policies, he said.

Consequently, this affected several fishing and processing companies with Filipino investments, Lu added.(PNA) FFCBNB/AVE/ebp