PH a hotspot of illegal trade in giant clams in Southeast Asia, says report

Infographic courtesy of Traffic

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 26 April) — The Philippines emerged as a hotspot in Southeast Asia in the illegal giant clam trade in the past 20 years, the Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (Traffic), a wildlife monitoring network, said in an assessment released Wednesday, April 26.

The assessment recorded 170 giant clam seizures involving Southeast Asia between January 2003 and December 2022. This resulted in the confiscation of 121,391 tons of giant clams and a further 7,682 shells destined for illegal trade, with 56% occurring since 2017, Traffic said.

It cited that the world’s biggest bust, which involved 120,000 tons of giant clams, occurred in the Philippines in 2019.

The Philippines made the greatest number of confiscations (71), with 62% occurring in Palawan province.

“Owing to the mega seizure in 2019, the Philippines seized most (121,071 tonnes) of the volume reported by weight over the 20-year period,” the assessment said.

“The global trade in giant clams warrants closer scrutiny following large-scale seizures and a lack of knowledge on the dynamics and scale of the trade,” it said.

“These figures are worrying given that scientific findings from over a decade ago already pointed to declining giant clam populations and some species becoming functionally extinct in some range countries,” the assessment quoted Rama Wong, senior wildlife crime analyst and co-author, as saying.

The assessment, however, admitted that little is known about the global trafficking of giant clams, the world’s largest bivalve mollusks.

A fisherman in Barangay Day-asan in Surigao City takes out clams from his fishcage. Even though prohibited, selling of clams is rampant here. MindaNews file photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

“They have long been harvested both legally and illegally for food, as decorative items, and for the aquarium trade,” it said.

In the 29 cases where species information was available, it was also revealed that 70.5% of the number of shells seized were China Clams Hippopus porcellanus, deemed one of the rarest giant clam species in the world.

The assessment further noted the “significant discrepancies” in trade figures reported by importing and exporting countries to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna or CITES.

“From 2003 to 2021, importers reported trade in more than four million giant clam shells, while exporters only reported three million shells traded,” it said.

“The combination of huge seizures, discrepancies in trade data, and a poor understanding of the current dynamics all spell trouble for giant clams,” said Wong, who urged more detailed analysis that would fill knowledge gaps and better inform responses in terms of enforcement, policy, and demand.

The assessment added that the large volumed seized suggested the involvement of organized criminality.

“Without closer monitoring, giant clams could be depleted before the world even recognized the problem existed,” it warned. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)