GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/06 April) – Philippine tuna producers can heave a sigh of relief, temporarily at least.
In the recently concluded 8th annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) held on March 26-29 in Guam, the Philippines was allowed limited number of fishing vessels in two pockets of Western Pacific high seas for at least one year even though several island-nations in the area were pushing for tighter controls.
These pockets of high seas were closed to tuna and purse seine fishing for two years ago beginning 2010.
The area covers more than 306,000 square miles of open seas south of Micronesia and north of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea where over 38 Philippine-flag purse seine fishing ships used to operate.
It is not yet clear how many of these Philippine fishing vessels will be allowed back in the contested area but industry sources here said the lifting of the ban will benefit RD Fishing and Frabelle Fishing, two of the country’s largest tuna fishing fleets which have already established bases in Papua New Guinea and have concession areas in Palau.
The two Pacific Island nations are near these pockets of seas.
Although the WCPFC lifted the ban, it is still imposing a three-month suspension of FAD fishing every year among its member countries. It also required all fishing vessels in the area to allow 100 percent observer coverage on board all purse seine operations.
The next WCPFC meeting will be held in the Philippines in December.
The WCPFC is a sanctioning body with 18 members and 33 participating countries.
The Philippines is a signatory to the conference.
In 2011, total tuna landing at the General Santos City fishing port complex dropped by 21 per cent from 143,139.17 metric tons in 2010 to 112,891.81 MT last year. Volume of landings of mature yellowfin tuna has also been on a steady decline from 33,369 MT in 2007 to a mere 9,061.13 MT last year.
General Santos City is acknowledged as the country’s tuna capital and is host to six of seven tuna canneries in the country.
Industry sources said some 120,000 residents here are directly and indirectly dependent on the industry.
The Philippines has been lobbying for the lifting of the ban citing severe economic backlash to the country’s tuna industry.
It even cited the slaying of 15 fishermen off the coast of Basilan in southern Philippines in January due to rivalry over narrowing fishing grounds as a result of the WCPFC ban. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews)