GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/ 06 September)– Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio has instructed the City Economic Management and Cooperative Development Office to study the impact of the proposed reduction in the number of tuna catcher vessels to the local tuna industry and the local economy.
Custodio issued the order even as she sought more scientific studies on the continuing decline of tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific region.
At a press conference Wednesday announcing the formal opening of this year’s edition of the Tuna Festival as well as the 14th National Tuna Congress, Custodio noted she wants more scientific data before considering the issue of reducing the number of tuna catcher vessels.
Conservation as well as management of the country’s tuna resources continues to be the top agenda in this year’s congress that is expected to gather at least 400 guests and delegates from all over the country and some delegation from other tuna- producing countries.
The 14th National Tuna Congress opens its plenary session on Friday (September 7).
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) earlier proposed a 165,000-metric ton (MT) ceiling on annual tuna catch to arrest the declining tuna stocks in Philippine waters.
Marfenio Tan, former president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industry (SFFAI), said reducing the city’s tuna catcher vessels to not more than 50 will help in the management of tuna stocks in Philippine waters.
Tan is among the pioneers of the tuna industry and one of the city’s biggest tuna producers.
SFFAI members have a total of 162 tuna catcher vessels.
BFAR, however, said there are at least 300 tuna catcher vessels nationwide.
Industry leaders have admitted that the Philippine waters, especially in the Sulu Sea and Sulawesi Sea, have been overfished over the last decade.
“Our primary concern is to ensure [that] our own tuna stocks are sustainable,” Custodio said, even as she claimed that the two-year closure in pockets of the Pacific Ocean has benefited local tuna fishermen.
Drop in tuna catch
She failed to cite data to support her claim but in 2010 and 2011, fish landings in Market 2 at the General Santos City registered a slight increase while landings at Market 1 and Market 3 dropped significantly.
Majority of the landings in Market 2 are caught within Philippine waters, which increased from 5,934.33 MT to 6,572.14 MT in 2010 and 2011, respectively, over the total 2009 figure of 26,174.45 MT.
Landings in Market 3, mostly caught by large purse seine vessels, however, dropped to 9,061.13MT in 2011 from 12,407.12 MT in 2010, 16,882.27 MT in 2009, 21,317 MT in 2008 and 33,369.04 MT in 2007.
Frozen landings from abroad also declined in 2011 with only 53,101.04 MT compared to 70,529.55 MT in 2010 and 72,557.87 MT in 2009.
Total combined landings also declined in 2011 with only 112,981.81 MT as against 143,139.17 in 2010.
The pockets of high seas lie in the strategic migratory path of tuna and tuna-like species. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) imposed the fishing ban, with the exception of hand-line tuna fishing, starting January 2010 to December 2011, following global decline of tuna catches.
In addition, the WCPFC also imposes an annual three-month ban on FAD fishing between July and September.
FAD stands for fish aggregating devices, which attract school of fish underneath a shaded area composed of large bundles of buri (a kind of sturdy palm) leaves held on by an anchor below and kept afloat by a steel buoy above the surface of the seas.
FADS have been labeled as a destructive method of fishing but are widely considered as appropriate and efficient method of catching tuna and tuna-like species.
In March this year, the WCPFC lifted the ban in High Seas Pocket 1 exclusively for Philippine tuna fishermen.
A sendoff ceremony will be held at the General Santos City Fish Port complex on September 25 to mark the return of Filipino tuna fisherman in an area about 590,000 square kilometers north of Papua New Guinea and east of southern Indonesia known as Pocket 1 among member countries of the WCPFC.
The Philippines is a member of the WCPFC.
Some 36 Philippine flagged tuna catcher vessels will join the voyage. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)