Greenpeace urges gov’t to stop campaign on Pacific tuna ban lifting

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 Nov) – Greenpeace has castigated the Philippine government’s plan to campaign for the reopening of pockets of high seas in the Pacific Ocean closed for purse seine fishing since 2010.

In a recent statement, Sari Tolvanen, Greenpeace International oceans campaigner, argued that the bid of the Philippines to lift the ban on purse seine fishing “would do more harm than good” in the long-term for the country’s tuna industry.

“The proposal to open the high seas pockets is a short-sighted proposal that will only serve to compromise the reputation of Philippine tuna globally and unravel years of existing efforts to conserve tuna stocks in the region for the long-term benefit of Philippine fishing fleets, jobs and food security for years to come,” she said.

On December 5 to 9, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission will meet in Palau to review, among others, the ban on purse seine fishing in the so-called Pacific Commons, which straddles large areas of international waters that lie between the Pacific Island countries

Greenpeace noted that the bigeye and yellowfin tuna – the species wanted conserved by the purse seine ban imposed by WCPFC in pockets of the Pacific Ocean that would end this December – are threatened species.

The Philippines has the third largest tuna catch in the region after Japan and Korea.

Bigeye and yellowfin tuna species are in decline in the region and have recently been listed as vulnerable and near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Greenpeace said.

The WCPFC closure order has helped curb pirate fishing and, together with restriction on the use of fish aggregation devices (FADs, such as payaws), eased some of the overfishing of tuna in the region, it added.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has constituted a team to push the country’s agenda in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which banned purse seine fishing in pockets of the Pacific Ocean that weighed on the local tuna industry here.

Asis Perez, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources national director, earlier said the Philippines has created a permanent team to push for the lifting of the ban during next month’s WCPFC meeting.

The team consists of representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, and Trade and Industry, the Mindanao Development Authority and other fishing industry leaders.

In a WCPFC meeting last year in Hawaii, the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. submitted a position calling for the establishment of a Special Management Area in High Seas Pocket 1, where Filipino purse seine fishers may be allowed.

The federation, the umbrella of several organizations involved in the local tuna industry, also noted that closure of portions of the high seas may be extended beyond 2011, and skipjack tuna may be among the species to be managed by the commission.

The closure of pockets of the Pacific Ocean has weighed a toll on the local tuna industry in this city, dubbed the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines.”

Based on data of the SFFAII, total tuna exports in 2010 were valued at $359.4 million (roughly P15.45 billion at $1=P43).

Of the total volume, about 70 percent was in canned form (76,800MT), and the rest (33,688MT) was either in fresh, chilled or frozen form.

Canned tuna exports in 2010 dropped by 8 percent compared to 2009 figures, the SFFAII said.

Tuna industry and other regional government agency officials had blamed the closure of portions of the Pacific Ocean to purse seine fishing to the drop in output.

In 2010, the total value of commercial fish production was placed at P17 billion, of which P10.7 billion (or 63 percent) was contributed by the SOCSKSARGEN region, according to the Agriculture department. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)