Citing data from the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII), GEM reported that current employment figure in the tuna industry has reached 10,300, or a rise of nearly 40 percent compared to the 7,400 workers in the industry in 2002.
The employment growth was reportedly driven by the expansions of tuna processing plants to cope with increasing export markets.
Exports from the South Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos (Socsksargen) Region increased from US$156 million in 2002 to US$183 million in 2004, but suffered a slight decrease in 2005 mainly due to declining catch and the temporary stoppages in production operations as the processing plants installed new procedures required by European Union (EU) inspectors, GEM reported.
About 90 percent of the region’s tuna exports are canned tuna products.
GEM said that the growth of canned tuna exports is related to a number of breakthroughs in policy advocacy efforts undertaken by the industry. Specifically, this includes the lobbying for tariff reduction on Philippine canned tuna exports to the EU markets, which led to the reduction of duties from 24 to 12 percent over a five year period that began in 2003.
“The tariff reduction has helped to enhance the competitiveness of Philippine canned tuna exports to the EU and has provided important market access to local tuna canneries which directly employ more than 10,000 workers,” said Francisco Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines (TCAP).
Marfenio Tan, president of the fishing federation, said that GEM’s ongoing training program on fish quality has contributed greatly to the sustainable development of the industry.
With funding support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), GEM has conducted 67 training sessions involving 3,000 participants, which include quality control officers from tuna processing plants, freezer vessel crews, fish laborers and other industry stakeholders. Topics include hazard analysis critical control points, good manufacturing practices and sanitation standard operating procedures.
“As a result of this initiative, fish handling, sanitation, unloading systems and related practices at the General Santos Fish Port Complex have further improved,” Tan said.
“To meet the growing export demand for canned tuna, the producers have also upgraded their equipment and increased plant size to increase their production capacity,” according to Mariano Fernandez, president of the Tuna Canners Association of General Santos City (TCAGS).
General Santos City’s six canneries have a combined production capacity of 730 metric tons a day, which is a 26-percent increase compared to 2002.
GEM has likewise helped the tuna industry at regulating itself. One such approach was helping in the conduct of a research on the tuna population so the industry could determine “total allowable catch” levels and maximum “sustainable yield.”