MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Philippines is optimistic its petition to remain exempted from a tuna fishing ban in the Pacific Ocean will be granted by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said.
“Our petition is ongoing and we seem to be in a good position because the government is serious in implementing laws and conservation efforts,” said Alcala.
Alcala was referring to the Philippine government's move to ban fishing in the Visayas seas and the Zamboanga Peninsula to increase the spawning areas of sardines and herring.
The bans in Visayas and Zamboanga took effect on November 15 and December 1, respectively. They will expire in February 2013.
“This is a very positive action. We are trying our best,” said Alcala.
The Philippines is seeking an extension of its fishing access to high seas Pocket 1 of the Pacific Ocean, which is closed to other countries.
This is amid calls for the WCPFC to impose stricter measures in the high seas to save the tuna stock from declining further.
Overfishing in PH
In his address during the opening session of the 9th regular meeting of the WCPFC in Manila on Sunday, December 2, Alcala said by extending the country’s fishing access in the high seas, overfishing of juvenile tuna population within the Philippine exclusive economic zone will be prevented.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez echoed Alcala's statement on December 3.
He told participating countries in the meeting that the exemption has helped ease the pressure on the Philippines' own tuna spawning and nursery grounds.
The Sulu Sea and the Sulawesi Sea in the Philippines are said to be the spawning grounds of yellowfin tuna and skip jacks, which are both highly migratory.
Like Alcala, Asis assured the WCPFC that the Philippines will comply with the guidelines set by the commission on the ban exemption.
The WCPFC allowed only 36 catcher vessels to operate in Pocket 1.
Asis refuted reports that more than 400 Filipino fishing vessels are now deployed in the area.
He said only 11 vessels have reached the area so far as some are still working to comply with the stringent requirements of the WCPFC.
He also reported that, so far, only 678 metric tons of tuna catch from the high seas have landed on the fishing port of General Santos City, some 920 kilometers south of Manila.
Asis said the Philippines is still consolidating data on tuna catch from both Philippine waters and the high seas pocket.
But he said there are marked differences in the sizes of skipjacks and other tuna-like species caught in the two fishing grounds.
He said tuna fish from the high seas are significantly longer and larger that those caught inside Philippine waters.
Asis also told the WCPFC meeting that the sample size of the recent catch from the high seas is still very small for the Philippines to determine its impact to the tuna stock.
The Philippines was granted a special 4-month access to high seas Pocket 1 from October 2012 to February 2013 with the condition that it would implement conservation measures established by the WCPFC.
The WCPFC banned tuna fishing in certain pockets of the Pacific Ocean to protect the population of the yellow fin and bigeye tuna.
During the closure of the high seas, Filipino fishermen resulted to catching juvenile tuna within Philippine waters.
The high seas catch is expected to boost the country’s fish production which contracted 2.57% the first 9 months of the year. - Rappler.com, with a report from Edwin Espejo
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