PH defends tuna fishing ban exemption

MANILA (MindaNews / 3 Dec) – The Philippines fisheries bureau director today defended the lifting of the ban on fish aggregating device (FAD) fishing in Pocket 1 High Seas in the Western Pacific region for Filipino tuna fishing vessels telling delegates to the ongoing 9th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting that the exemption may have helped eased pressure on the country’s tuna spawning and nursery grounds.

The Fish and Aquaculture Department of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization defines FAD as a “structure or device made from any material and used to lure fish.” It added that generally, “buoys and floats close to the surface comprise the major part of the aggregating system.” In the Philippines, FAD is referred to as the payao.

The Sulu Sea and the Sulawesi Sea are said to be the spawning ground of yellowfin tuna and skipjacks.

Both tuna species are highly migratory.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez, however, also said the Philippines is willing to sit down with everybody to discuss issues related to the opening of Pocket 1 to Filipino tuna fishing vessels.

Pocket 1 is an area of more than 560,000 square miles of international waters north of Papua New Guinea and east of Indonesia.

Asis said the Philippines is still consolidating data catches both inside Philippine waters and the initial landings of tuna catch from the reopened high seas pocket exclusively for Filipino tuna fishing vessels.

But the Philippine fisheries director said there are marked differences in the sizes of skipjacks and other tuna-like species caught between two fishing grounds.

He said initial tuna catch from the high seas, after it was reopened recently, are far significantly longer and larger that those caught inside Philippine waters.

Several participating member countries are calling for the total closure of at least four high seas pockets that lie across the migratory path of tuna and other tuna-like species.

Asis also told the WCPFC meeting that the sample size of the recent catch landing from the said area is still very small for the Philippines to determine its impact to the tuna stock.

He also refuted suggestion that more than 400 Filipino fishing vessels are now deployed in the area reopened to the Philippines.

He said of the 36 fleets allowed to fish in the area, only 11 have so far reached the area with some still working on to comply with the stringent requirements of the WCPFC.

Asis said the Filipino fishing vessels now in the area could not be more than 50.

He also reported that, so far, only 678 metric tons of tuna catch have been landed in the fishing port of General Santos City, some 920 kilometers south of Manila, after these vessels reached the area on October 1.

The WCPFC is still discussing a draft conservation management measure submitted to the plenary session.

Among these is a four-month closure on FAD fishing and purse seine operations both in exclusive economic zones and the high seas.

WCPFC is now currently imposing a three-month ban on FAD fishing among its member countries and have closed four pockets of high seas in the Western Pacific ocean. (Edwin Espejo / MindaNews contributor)