Groups warn ‘death’ of tuna industry with unregulated FADs

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 4 September) – Various groups have reiterated their call for the regulation of fish aggregating devices (FADs) in the Philippines to ensure the sustainability of the handline fishing sector, which produces large mature fresh tuna stocks sold in the domestic and foreign sashimi market.

Unregulated FADs by purse seine fishing will lead to the eventual collapse of the tuna industry, asserted the group, whose representatives gathered here for the 16th National Tuna Congress (NTC).

The two-day NTC that openedThursday carries the theme “Shared Resources, Shared Responsibility.”

In a statement, Greenpeace blamed the FADs put up by purse seine fishers to the massive decline in bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks in the Pacific Ocean.

Bigeye tuna is one of the most valuable tuna species regularly caught in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean and fetch a high price in the sashimi market.

Bigeye tuna overfishing is partly attributed to the failure to manage tuna purse seine fishing associated with FADs-buoys or rafts that drift or are anchored to attract and aggregate pelagic fish, making them easier to find and catch, Greenpeace said.

However, FADs do not increase the abundance of fish, but only redistribute them into a smaller area, it added.

The catch of baby yellowfin and bigeye tuna can go as high as 24% of the total catch for the Philippine purse seine fleet that use FADs in the Pacific High Seas Pocket 1 (HSP1), the statement said.

In 2013, the Philippine fleet caught a total of 2,774 tons of yellowfin tuna and 478 tons of bigeye tuna in HSP1, but the juvenile haul was undervalued and were only sold at the same price as skipjack tuna for canning, at about 10 percent of the market price of a mature yellowfin and bigeye tuna, it noted.

“Tuna handliners are not only feeling the pinch, but they are worried for the collapse of the industry itself,” said Raul Gonzales, spokesperson of the Alliance of Tuna Handliners here.

He said that purse seiners usually catch bigeye or yellowfin tuna that is about 40cm long, or one kilogram, similar in size to an adult skipjack tuna for the canning industry.

“However, that tuna is considered a baby for us in the handline sector. We should only catch the large mature fish that is more than a meter long, using one hook for one fish. This way, we allow the tuna to reproduce and ensure that the stock is viable, not to mention fetch a good market price,” Gonzales said.

Philippine fishing fleets in the high seas have deployed an estimated 3,000 anchored FADs and 7,200 drifting FADs in the Western Central Pacific Ocean. Within the country’s exclusive economic zone, there are at least 3,000 to 5,000 FADs, with the numbers constantly on the rise due to a lack of regulation and an active program by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to deploy and encourage the use of FADs, Greenpeace said.

Jose Ingles, policy officer for the World Wide Fund for Nature – Coral Triangle Programme, said that juvenile fish “can be as high as 100 percent of the catch in purse seine and ring nets using FADs in Philippine waters.

“Our current fishing practices are no longer sustainable and have far reaching effects beyond the country’s territory. We need to find a way to address this problem urgently if we want a viable tuna industry in the future,” he said.

Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, urged the government to progressively increase the FAD ban period until a there is a full ban on the use of FADs in purse seine fishing in the near future.

“It’s time that we make these changes to save our fishing industry and restore the country’s top status in the international tuna arena,” he said.

The BFAR has implemented an annual three-month ban on FAD fishing since the last few years.