Tuna industry wants agreements with tuna-rich countries

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 June) — The local tuna industry has urged the national government to work out bilateral fishing access agreements with other tuna-resource rich countries as several local tuna producers have slowed down operations in the last six months due to the ban on fishing in portions of the Pacific Ocean.

Bayani Fredeluces, executive director of the Socsargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, said the two-year ban imposed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has taken a toll on the operations of tuna fishing companies.

“The government, through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, should make concrete moves now to help our purse seine operators,” he said.

He said the local fishing federation suggests that national officials hammer out fishing access agreement with countries like Palau and other Pacific island nations to allow the local purse seine operators to fish in their waters.

Local fishing companies are allowed to fish in the waters of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, provided they have onshore investments there, as in the case of the homegrown conglomerate RD Corp. of tuna tycoon Rodrigo E. Rivera, Sr.

The WCPFC approved the closure order on Dec. 8-12, 2008 in Busan, South Korea in a document titled “Conservation and Management Measure for Bigeye and Yellowfin Tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.”

The closure for purse seine fishing covers only two pockets of the high seas in the western and eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean. It took effect last January 1.

Pocket one covers Palau, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, which Fredeluces noted are the areas closest to the Philippines and where local tuna fishers frequently operate.

Pocket two is bounded by the countries of Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tuvalu, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and parts of Kiribati.

Not covered by the ban are the high seas surrounding Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and parts of Kiribati.

Earlier, Fredeluces said an initial study by the local fishing federation projected tuna catch from purse seine fishing to drop 10 percent-20 percent as a result of the closure.

Despite the slowing down of local purse seine operators due to the ban, Fredeluces said the operations of tuna canneries in the city remain normal since the slack is balanced by foreign-caught stocks.

A study by the University of the Philippines-Visayas’ College of Fisheries and Ocean Science said there’s a need for the local tuna fishing industry to look for alternative areas to the idling of purse seiners.

One area will be the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) although this site may not be as lucrative as in the closed fishing areas in the Pacific Ocean, it said.

The study stressed that through bilateral agreements with various Pacific island-countries, this will allow Philippine purse seiners to fish within the EEZ of these nations.

The regional Department of Labor and Employment earlier said that at least eight fishing companies with an estimate work force of 1,600 will be directly affected by the WCPFC ban. (MindaNews)