The Philippine tuna industry in crisis: Another look

1st  of  three parts

Cracks are beginning to appear in one of Mindanao’s premier foreign currency earning industries as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission gears up for its critical meet in March that could impact tuna production and its future in the region.

Workers haul tuna from a fishing boat at the Fish Port Complex in Barangay Tambler, General Santos City. MindaNews File Photo by Erwin MascarinasWhile the government and key tuna producers are calling for the lifting of the two-year ban on tuna fishing in two pockets of seas in the Western Pacific area, some individual tuna producers say a total ban will bode well for local tuna producers in the long term.

Marfenio Tan, former president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industry (SFFAI), said he favors a longer and even a total one rather than mere lifting of the ban.

He said the areas covered by the ban lie in one of the strategic migratory paths of tuna and tuna-like species and closing them to commercial fishing will allow the rapidly declining pelagic specie to replenish their stocks.

American yellowfin tuna trader John Heitz is supporting Tan and is calling for a moratorium on net and purse seine fishing within one hundred kilometers from the coastline of Sarangani Bay.

But General Santos City Councilor Ronnel Rivera is sticking to the Philippine government position which is for the WCPFC to immediately lift the ban and allow medium size purse seine tuna catchers in the two pockets of seas in the Western Pacific region.

These are the seas off Palau, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, areas closest to the Philippines where local tuna fishing companies frequently operate and further south west off Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tuvalu, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and parts of Kiribati.

Rivera, operations manager of RD Fishing, said there are two major considerations in the government’s position seeking a lifting of the ban.

“The high seas are our traditional fishing grounds and the closure made a direct impact to our economy and to the employment in the industry,” Rivera said.

The ban however did not cover handline tuna fishing, considered as an environment friendly method of catching mature yellowfin tuna.

Rivera however added that they are not pushing for the resumption of super seine operations in the area.  The RD Fishing Group, along with Frabelle Fishing, also operates several super seine fleets that can land up to 200 tons in a single catch but these vessels are largely stationed in Papua New Guinea where the two Filipino companies also own tuna separate canning plants.

But Tan said the total closure of these seas will favor the Philippines.

“We cannot compete with the super seniers of countries like the US, Japan, Spain and others anyway,” he reasoned out.

Most Philippine fishing vessels are medium sizes capable of catching up to 50 tons of tuna-like specie mostly used as raw materials for canning.

According to Tan, there were 38 Philippine fishing vessels operating in these areas prior to the two-year ban that took effect starting in 2010.