Group urges discussion of overfishn in ASEAN summit

Arsenio Tanchuling, executive director of the Tambuyog Development Center, said rampant overfishing and destructive fishing practices are endangering 90% of coral reefs in the region which are a major source of fish and other seafood.

“The nearly 100,000 square kilometers of coral reefs in Southeast Asia comprise 34% of the world’s total and have the highest levels of marine biodiversity on earth. On the average, they yield 15 tons of fish and other seafood per square kilometer yearly,” he said.

“If nothing is done to preserve these reefs, the food security of the region’s population will be gravely threatened since 70% of the animal protein consumed in the region comes from seafood,” Tanchuling added.

In calling for the inclusion of this agenda in the ASEAN summit, he noted that a regional fishery management plan is necessary for coordination and joint implementation of regulatory measures to prevent both destruction of coral reefs and overfishing.

He also called on the ASEAN leaders to regulate commercial fishing activities in the region, particularly the use of trawls and purse seine which are the major causes of overfishing.

Citing data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Tanchuling said  coastal tuna resources in the Philippines are on the decline so Filipino commercial fishers now have to fish for tuna in Indonesian waters through bilateral arrangement.

“Therefore, regulation of tuna catch is needed to make it sustainable in the long-term,” he noted.

Bayani Fredeluces, executive director of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc., said the country  tries to sustain the fishing industry through the National Tuna Management Plan, formulated in 2004 and approved only in July last year.

Under the plan, estimated annual total allowable catch for skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) must not exceed 150,000 metric tons; Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), 110,000 MT; and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), 7,500 tons.

“Fishing operations shall be terminated when total allowable catch is reached,” the plan said.

Estimated current catch for skipjack is at 132,000 MT, 110,100 MT for yellowfin, and 9,000 MT for  bigeye, it added.

Fredeluces said his group is also supporting the observance of the zonification of fishing grounds in the country.

In the plan, 0 to 10 kilometers from the shore must be used only by municipal fishermen using passive gears only; 10.1 to 15 kilometers from the shore, commercial handline fishing may be allowed when licensed by the municipal government; 15 to 20 kilometers from the shore, special zones in designated areas of Celebes Sea and Moro Gulf may be restricted to commercial handline tuna fishing only and all other areas within this band will be open to both handline and net fishing.

For 20.1 kilometers and beyond from the shore, this would be open to legal forms of tuna fishing. (MindaNews)