Pacific tuna vessel sharing scheme fixed

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/14 August) — Nineteen fishing companies are each assured of a slot to catch tuna in a limited portion of the Pacific Ocean in line with the access given to the Philippines in the rich fishing ground, a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) official said on Tuesday.

Ambutong K. Pautong, BFAR Region 12 acting director, said 17 more vessels would be chosen in a draw lot system to complete the allocation set to the Philippines by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

Earlier this year, the WCPFC gave access to 36 Philippine purse seine vessels to catch tuna in pockets of the Pacific Ocean.

Prior to this, the WCPFC closed pockets 1 and 2 of the Pacific Ocean to purse seine fishing to member nations for two years that ended last December to allow tuna species to replenish.

Pautong told MindaNews the agency has yet to issue international fishing permits to the fishing companies pending the finalization of a BFAR fisheries administrative order that would regulate the limited access given to the country.

Also, he noted that Philippine vessels could not catch fish until the end of September in the rich Pacific tuna fishing ground due to the three-month closure also imposed by the WCPFC as part of the annual conservation measure there.

Local fishing magnate Marfenio Tan, immediate past chairman of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied industries, Inc., said there are still issues that would have to be threshed out involving the 36-vessel allocation of the country in the Pacific Ocean.

These include the size of the net that would be used in the fishing operation, the vessel monitoring system and the observer to the vessel, Tan told reporters last week.

He said that government policymakers and tuna industry players will discuss the issues in the forthcoming 14th National Tuna Congress to be held here on September 6 – 7. The congress will carry the theme “Opening New Grounds and Strengthening Commitments: A Resilient Tuna Industry.”

Tan also said that the fishing companies that will be part of that 36-vessel allocation have been identified already.

There have been earlier consultations to discuss the procedure on how Philippine fishing companies should benefit from the limited fishing access.

Among the initial consensus reached then is assigning a specific catching ground to fishing companies included in the 36-vessel allocation, with a proposed penalty of up to P1 million to a violator.

Pautong earlier said that once the Philippine fishing vessels start catching there in October, it would enhance the production of tuna canneries in this city, touted as the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines.”

Six of the seven tuna canneries in the country are based here, with the BFAR official saying the local canneries have been experiencing production difficulties due to lower catches, supposedly because of the two-year fishing ban in the Pacific Ocean that ended last December.

The limited access to the Philippines will last until February 2013 and this was expected to yield at least 90,000 metric tons of tuna for the local industry.

Tuna remains one of the top exports of Mindanao with a combined freight-on-board value of US$311 million in 2010.  In the same year, the total tuna industry was valued at P23 billion.

The tuna industry employs at least 100,000 people ranging from fishing to canning, processing and other auxiliary services.

The United States, European Union and Japan remain the top export destinations of tuna products from the country. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)