GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/31 January)—The spiraling cost of fuel products and the purse seine fishing ban in pockets of the Pacific Ocean have cut down frozen tuna landings at the fish port complex here last year, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) said, citing preliminary data.
In the BAS 2011 fisheries situationer report released on Tuesday, the agency noted that unloading at the fish port complex declined by 47,049 metric tons (MT) or about 18 percent from 2010.
In 2010, the unloaded volume at the fish port complex, which is managed by the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority, was pegged at 144,812.05 MT. Last year, it went down to 117,315.29 MT.
“The closure of [pockets of the] high seas as imposed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) on its member countries to replenish stocks of the highly migratory tuna species…was another contributing factor to the output reduction,” said the 20-page BAS annual report, which also includes other marine commodities.
The other factors cited for the decline in tuna unloading, besides fuel price hikes, were dry- docking of some commercial vessels for repair or maintenance and lesser fishing expeditions due to weather disturbances.
With the WCPFC ban on purse-seine fishing in two pockets of the high seas in the western and eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean starting January 1, 2010, foreign fishing vessels have dominated the unloading of frozen tuna in this city for the needs of the canneries.
Owing to the ban, local tuna fishing companies have complained that they could not afford the additional costs in operating in farther fishing grounds. As a result, thousands of workers in the tuna fishing industry have lost their jobs, according to the regional Department of Labor and Employment, which had extended assistance to them.
Pocket one covers Palau, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, areas closest to the Philippines where local tuna fishing companies 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.
The ban does not include hand line fishing, a method that employs the traditional hook and line to catch sashimi-grade tuna stocks.
The two-year ban in pockets of the Pacific Ocean should have lapsed last December, but a meeting that would have discussed the matter had been canceled and moved to March.
Marfenio Tan, director of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII), said that organizers of the eighth regular session of the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (or WCPFC8) also moved the venue from Palau to Guam.
He said the postponement of the meeting extended for another three months the resolution of the purse seine fishing ban in pockets of the Pacific Ocean that practically slowed down the tuna fishing industry here in the last two years.
Earlier, Asis Perez, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director, said that a permanent Philippine team was created last year to push the country’s agenda in the WCPFC.
The team is composed of representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, and Trade and Industry, the Mindanao Development Authority and other fishing industry leaders.
The Philippines wants the ban on purse seine fishing in the Pacific Ocean lifted. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)