The Philippine tuna industry crisis: Another look (2)

2nd of three parts

GENERAL SANTOS CITY  (MindaNews/05 February) — The two-year ban has impacted the volume of landing of tuna at the General Santos City fishing port complex.

General Santos Fish Port Complex
Annual Volume of Landing
 Year                                          2011                  2010            2009             2008                    2007
Market 1                                     6,186.94           7,040.98       6,998.44        12,680.45        20,194.42
Market 2                                   32,746.59        32,108.78      26,174.45       29,508.16         29,760.92
Market 3                                     9,061.13        12,407.12       16,882.27       21,317.37         33,369.04
Market 4                                           –                       346.76              525.77            1,557.58                  –
Wharf 1 (Foreign frozen)        53,101.04        70,529.55        72,557.87      26,206.70         21,044.82
Wharf 2 (Manila frozen)        11,796.11         20,705.98        20,177.52      20,989.04            1,320.99
TOTALS                               112,891.81       143,139.17        143,316.32   112,259.30        105,690.19
Source: Philippine Fisheries Development Authority

Landings at Market 3 are catches by big purse seine tuna operators where majority of the volume goes to the canning plants.  Market 2 catch covers all fish species (including aqua and marine culture) caught by both commercial municipal fishermen and which largely go to the local market.

Markets 1 and 4 are exclusively for big yellowfin tuna while landings at Wharves 1 and 2 directly go to the cannery.

In 2011, the total landing at the city’s port complex dropped by 21 per cent from 143,139.17 metric tons in 2010 to 112,891.81 MT last year.

There was no significant drop in the overall 2009 volume of landing (143,316.32MT) compared to the following year (2010).

But volume of landings of mature yellowfin tuna has been on a steady decline from 33,369 MT in 2007 to mere 9,061.13 last year.

The 2011 volume of landing of tuna also indicates that more than 90 percent of raw materials for the city’s six canning plants have been sourced from either abroad (74.7 percent at 53,101.04 MT) or from Manila (16.6 percent at 11,796.11 MT).

Interestingly, the volume of landings in Market 2 have remained steady over the last two years and in fact even increased during the period covered by the ban.

Tan, during a recent game fishing expedition, said there is some logic to the ban as it will allow uninterrupted migratory flow of the tuna species whose spawning grounds are believed to be in the Sulu and North Sulawesi (formerly Celebes Sea) seas.

Over the last five years, tuna industry players in the country have come to terms that unless serious conservation measures are instituted, tuna catch will continue to decline which could lead to serious problems in the industry.

Divided once more

The two-year ban imposed by WCPFC in two areas in the Western Pacific ocean has resulted in reduced fishing expeditions by many local tuna fishers.

It compounded the increasing protectionist policies from nearby Indonesia, the traditional fishing grounds of Filipino tuna catchers, and the island countries of Papua New Guinea and Palau.  Also adding to the reduced volume of catches and landing is the high fuel costs which left many small tuna catching vessels grounded.

Immediately after the ban was announced, local tuna producers were forced to recall their fishing fleets.  Tan said, in order for the local tuna industry to be sustainable, Philippine tuna fishing vessels should be reduced to not more than 50.  The Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industry alone listed at least 160 fishing vessels in the area at the time of the ban.

But some are vehemently protesting a forced reduction of fishing vessels unless they are compensated by the government for the decommissioning of their fishing fleets, to which Tan agrees.

“The government should set aside a budget for the decommissioning of some fishing vessels to caution the impact of reduced fishing vessels as well as drastic cut in industry employment as a result of such move,” Tan said.

He estimates that the government needs at least P1.2 billion (US$27.7 million) to address this measure.

“Anything that will help the local tuna industry become more sustainable,” said Tan, who three years ago sold his two fleets of super seiners because of increased production costs.

A single medium-sized tuna fishing fleet consisting of mother boat, service and other auxiliary vessels including a set of 30 to 60 fish aggregating devices could cost up to P30 million (US$700,000).

Tan and Heitz are also in favour of a moratorium on tuna fishing during spawning season or reducing vessel fishing days.

Heitz said the Philippine government can look into the state of sardine (tamban) production in the country.  Last year, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources began implementing a moratorium on commercial sardine fishing after a noticeable and dramatic decline of catch.  He said, it could also work in the tuna industry by strictly enforcing regulations on net mess sizes and sizes of allowable tuna catches. (Tomorrow: Looking Outside or Capital Flight?) [Edwin G. Espejo writes for the