No relief for Philippine tuna fishermen

Edwin G. Espejo

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Filipino tuna fishers will have to wait longer for a decision on whether a 2-year ban in Western Pacific areas where stock has dwindled will be lifted

ENDANGERED. Declining catch and looming total tuna fishing ban in some ares in the tuna-rich Western Pacific region could spell disaster to the Philippine tuna industry. Photo by Edwin Espejo

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Tuna fishers will have to wait 2 more months before an international organization decides to either lift a 2-year ban or move to totally ban tuna fishing in Western Pacific areas where stock has dwindled.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), a treaty-based organization that aims to conserve and manage fish stocks in the Pacific Ocean, was supposed to meet in Palau in December 2011 to decide on the ban but moved its meeting to March 2012 in Guam following a big fire that hit the Western Pacific island country.

Filipino tuna fishers, however, are not guaranteed they can resume tuna fishing as the commission is reportedly leaning towards extending the ban.

In 2010, the WCPFC had issued a 2-year ban on purse seine tuna fishing in 2 pockets of seas in the Western Pacific region. Purse seine tuna fishing uses large fishing nets with rings at the bottom that is pulled together by a rope to prevent the fish from swimming down to escape the net. 

The ban was enforced following studies that tuna stock has been declining due to over fishing.

The Philippines has been lobbying for the lifting of the ban on purse seine tuna fishing in international waters.

It will be sending a high-level delegation to the Guam meet of the WCPFC that will be composed by the departments of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry, Mindanao Development Authority and fishing industry leaders.

Fishing ground

The WCPFC is inclined to extend the ban but could move to totally ban tuna fishing in 2 pockets of fishing grounds in the Western Pacific region, according to Marfenio Tan, former president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII), a local industry group.

“The WCPFC will convene on the last week of March in Guam and part of the discussions will center on whether the fishing ban will be extended or (purse seine fishing in the Pacific) will be totally banned,” Tan said.

One of the areas covered by the ban, at coordinates of 135 degrees to 152 degrees longitude and one degree to 6 degrees north of the equator, is a rich source of tuna stock, Tan explained.

The area referred to by Tan covers more than 306,000 square miles of open seas south of Micronesia and north of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea where over 38 Philippine-flag purse seine fishing ships used to operate.

Tuna industry

The Philippines is the world’s 4th largest producer of fresh chilled and canned tuna products.

But in recent years, Philippine tuna catch has been on the decline.

Rising weather temperatures and over fishing are among the major contributors to the declining tuna catch, Tan said.

The tuna industry accounts for 12% of the country’s total fish production and employs about 120,000 workers, with General Santos City as the acknowledged center of the industry.

Annual export earnings from the tuna industry are pegged at about $280 million.

Philippine purse seine catches dramatically declined by 36.5% between 2010 (147,780 metric tons) and 2009 (93,760 MT).

The 2009 catch itself is 23.8% less than the 2008 catch (194,076 MT).

Tuna cannery receipts also indicated that tuna catches declined by 7% in 2010 at only 78,182 metric tons.

The Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines also reported that the country’s tuna production dropped by 20% in the first 3 quarters of 2011 as a result of the continuing fishing ban.

A large portion of tuna canneries have been importing their raw materials from Papua New Guinea, Palau (frozen) and Indonesia (semi-processed). –

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