GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/08 September) — The closure of four pockets of high seas to tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean has reportedly not yielded the desired results of arresting the decline of big eye tuna stocks and “replacement measures” are now being considered to continue to find solutions to the steadily declining population of tuna.
Glenn Hurry, executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), said alternative measures will be high up in the agenda in the Manila meeting of WCPFC in December.
Among the steps considered is expanding the ban on tuna fishing using fish aggregating devices (FADs), which by themselves are also subject to further debates and discussions.
At present, the WCPFC is imposing an annual 3-month ban on FAD fishing, which runs from July to September.
Also being considered is regulating and allocating catches of skipjacks and yellowfin tuna among member countries of WCPFC.
WCPFC closed four high seas pockets to tuna fishing for two years beginning late in 2009 in response to growing alarm over declining tuna catches.
The WCPFC will present a full report on the effectiveness of the said conservation management measure later this year.
Hurry, however, said the four pockets of high seas will remain closed to tuna fishing except in Pocket 1 where the Philippines was granted exclusive access beginning October 1 this year. The privilege will expire in February 28 but may be extended depending on the results of the WCPFC meeting in December.
Hurry said only the Philippines was able to present its case when the WCPFC met in Guam in March this year.
“The Philippine (was able to) produce data of catch record,” Hurry said in a press conference Friday.
In addition to the strong lobby made by the Philippine delegation in Guam headed by Mindanao Development Authority head Lualhati Antonino, the WCPFC executive director likewise said the country was able convince the commission “that it is (engaged in) responsible (fishing).”
The WCPFC however imposed strict regulations for 36 Philippine catcher vessels that will be allowed to fish in High Seas Pocket 1 located in an area of about 590,000 square kilometers north of Papua New Guinea and east of southern Indonesia.
This area has recently become a fishing ground for Philippine tuna fishers.
Pocket 1 will be open exclusively only to Philippine catcher vessels with a capacity of no more than 250 tons. Also, only traditional fresh and chilled catching vessels operating as a group will be allowed in the area.
In addition, they will have to allow observers on board and will have to report the volume, time and origin of their catches. Their catches will also have to be landed exclusively in General Santos City.
In a speech delivered during the 14th National Tuna Congress, Curry said increasing global demand for canned and processed tuna products are putting a strain on tuna stocks worldwide.
His observation was shared by Dexter Teng, operations manager of TSP Marine, one of the bigger tuna producers of General Santos City.
“At the end of the day, it is the market forces that drive producers to fish for more,” Teng said.
Teng, however, was optimistic that the Philippines will be able to draw its own conservation measures and manage tuna stocks along the country’s fishing grounds.
He said the local tuna industry is now united and is getting the needed support from the government.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez, meanwhile, said the government will continue to conduct research on tuna spawning grounds in the country and ensure that these are protected.
“We have to prove that we are worthy of the privilege of being able to again fish in the High Seas Pocket 1 on a permanent basis not only until February 28, 201,” Perez told delegates to the Tuna Congress. (Edwin Espejo/MindaNews)