Local tuna producers brace for two-month ban on fishing

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/17 July) – Purse seine operators fishing in international waters are bracing themselves for a major cut in tuna production effective next month as a result of a ban on FAD-fishing imposed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Conference (WCPFC) to replenish stocks of the highly-migratory tuna species.
The ban will take affect August 1 and will end on September 30.

The Philippines is a signatory to a resolution by member countries and organizations of WCPFC which set the ban on tuna fishing in fish aggregating devices (FADs), locally known as payaw, during the spawning period which fall in the months of July up to September.
Malcolm Sarmiento, drector of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said the government will closely monitor the operations of purse seine owners in the region to comply with the WCPFC ban.

Violators could face delisting of their fishing vessels from WCPFC and they could be apprehended in international waters.

Sarmiento said the government may also revoke the licenses and other permits of tuna producers who will violate the ban.

The ban, however, does not apply to handline tuna fishing and will also not cover FAD fishing inside the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and municipal waters.

Commercial fishing is already prohibited within the 15-kilomter municipal waters under the Fisheries Code of the Philippines.

Purse seine fishing operations are classified as commercial fishing.

Bayani Freduluces, executive director of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries (SFFAI) said fishing companies will have their vessels included in the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) list if they will be caught violating the ban.

Purse seine operators here are reportedly wary about the effects of the ban but Freduluces said member companies of the federation will comply with the measure.

“They are willing to sacrifice short term losses if it will mean the restocking of tuna specie that is being threatened by overfishing,” he said.

The federation director said the ban will substantially reduce tuna catch during the period.

“Production could drop between 50 to 70 per cent during those months,” he said.

According to him, up to 70 per cent of the total landed catch at the General Santos City Fish Port complex is produced by big purse seine operators who are operating in the high seas and international waters.

The government, he revealed, tried to lobby for exemption and offered to cut down on the number of FADs but the WCPFC reportedly rejected the proposal.

One set of purse seine fleet includes between 80 to 100 FADs.

Purse seine operators here are reportedly readjusting their drydocking schedules to time them during the ban period.

Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines (TCAP) president Mariano Fernandez of Ocean Canning said they will hold meetings to address the looming cut in tuna production.

“No fish means no canning operation and no jobs,” he said.

But Fernandez believed that canning operations will not be drastically affected by the temporary cut in production.

Canning factories here regularly imports in raw materials when supply runs short.

General Santos is home to six of the country’s seven canning factories and is the region’s top export and biggest dollar earner.

Total tuna landing in the city is averaging 400,000 metric tons a year and generating US$280 million in export revenues.

An estimated 120,000 residents in the region are directly and indirectly dependent on the tuna industry. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)