PHL creates team to push tuna agenda in int’l fishing body

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/21 Sept) – The Department of Agriculture (DA) has constituted a team to push the country’s agenda in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which banned purse seine fishing in pockets of the Pacific Ocean that weighed on the local tuna industry here.

Asis Perez, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources national director, said the permanent Philippine team consists of representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, and Trade and Industry, the Mindanao Development Authority and other fishing industry leaders.

The team will attend the 8th WCPFC regular session on December 5-9, 2011, at Ngarachamayong Cultural Centre, Madalii in Koror, Palau.

Among the agenda items for discussion is the stock status of key tuna species and evaluation of the WCPFC Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) 2008-01.

CMM 2008-01 was implemented on January 1, 2010 until December 31 this year, which closed pockets of the Pacific Ocean to purse seine fishing to allow tuna stocks to replenish.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala has approved the creation of the Philippine team that will be responsible for the country’s strategic positioning, bargaining, and negotiations with the WCPFC.

The Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. has submitted a position to the WCPFC meeting in Hawaii last year calling for the establishment of a Special Management Area in High Seas Pocket 1, where Filipino purse seine fishers may be allowed.

The federation also noted that closure of portions of the high seas may be extended beyond 2011, and skipjack tuna may be among the species to be managed by the commission, warranting the organization of a Philippine team “that will draw strong and strategic positioning and negotiating tools on WCPFC matters.”

Based on the report of two BFAR scientists who attended the 7th Regular Session of the WCPFC Scientific Committee (SC) last month in the Federated States of Micronesia, Perez said the body concluded that tuna, specifically the yellow fin species, “is not experiencing overfishing.”

“However, the scientific committee recommended that there should be no increase in fishing efforts in the western equatorial region,” he said in a DA press release.

During the same conference, experts noted that bigeye tuna was nearing the overfishing level, prompting the WCPFC SC to recommend a 32-percent reduction in fishing effort to address the diminishing stock, Perez said.

He added that it was “still early to determine the effects of the high seas closure in terms of other tuna varieties.”

But based on data of the SFFAII, total tuna exports in 2010 were valued at $359.4 million (roughly P15.45 billion at $1=P43).

Of the total volume, about 70 percent was in canned form (76,800MT), and the rest (33,688MT) was either in fresh, chilled or frozen form.

Canned tuna exports in 2010 dropped by 8 percent compared to 2009 figures, the SFFAII said.

Tuna industry and other regional government agency officials earlier blamed the closure of portions of the Pacific Ocean to purse seine fishing to the drop in output.

In 2010, the total value of commercial fish production was placed at P17 billion, of which P10.7 billion (or 63 percent) was contributed by the SOCSKSARGEN region, according to the Agriculture department. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)