Phl gains new access to tuna-rich fishing grounds

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Filipino commercial fishermen gained new access to the High Seas Pocket 1, providing boost to the country’s commercial fish production and revitalizing the tuna industry that has been sagging since 2008, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said.

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During the send-off ceremony in General Santos City, BFAR Director Asis Perez said that 84 commercial fishing vessels will troop to the tuna-rich High Seas Pocket 1 of the Western Pacific Ocean in time for the opening of the fishing season on November 1 this year.

“The ceremony involved the highest number of Philippine fishing vessels that will operate in the high seas,” Perez said.

To recall, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), a regional fisheries management organization that addresses problems in the management of high seas fisheries, closed four high seas pockets from tuna fishing for two years beginning 2009 in response to the growing alarm over declining tuna catches.

In April 2012, the WCPFC supported the ‘’Philippine Conservation and Management Proposal,’’ which allows fishing of 36 group seines in the area between Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia, also known as High Seas Pocket 1.

This measure allowed the country to fish until March of 2013.

The same support was granted by the Commission in December of 2012, convinced that the country adheres to responsible fishing operations, thereby, extending the right of the Philippines to fish in the area until June 30 of 2013.

Another fishing ban was imposed from July 1 to October 30 this year due to Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) Closure. The Philippines, however, gets new access in the High Seas Pocket 1 as the fishing season opens on November 1.

By December 2013, the Philippines will again present its case before the WCPFC to request for continuous access in the High Seas Pocket 1 on the year 2014 and beyond.

“If granted, this would still come with the Commission’s strict imposition of regulations for the Philippine fishing vessels in the area which has become a known fishing ground for tuna fishers,” Perez said.

The multi-national WCPFC establishes measures to ensure long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks like tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

As the commission convenes its 10th regular session in December, new or enhanced measures are expected to replace interim conservation measures currently being implemented.

Earlier, major players in the tuna industry call for the creation of a lobby arm that would promote the Philippines in the global fisheries organizations, particularly the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairman Luwalhati Antonino said there is a need for the Philippines to exert strong and united presence in WCPFC to ensure the country’s tuna industry gets its rightful share from the resources and protect gains from conservations efforts.

She said that the creation of the Philippine Committee for the Advancement of the Highly Migratory Fisheries would provide the country with a stronger presence in the WCPFC as the country lobbies for fishing access in view of the coming multi-year management program for Bigeye, Yellowfin, and Skipjack tuna from 2014 to 2017.

The opening of Pocket 1 is exclusive to Philippine catcher vessels with a capacity of no more than 250 tons. Still part of WCPFC’s regulations, only traditional fresh and chilled catching vessels operating as a group will be allowed in the area.

In addition, these vessels will have to allow Fisheries Observers on board to report the volume, time and origin of their catches. Their catches will also have to be landed exclusively in General Santos City.

“This 100 percent observer coverage is also designed to gather scientific, compliance and other relevant information,” Perez said.

The BFAR chief also said that the government would continue to conduct research on tuna spawning grounds in the country and ensure that these are protected.

“The privilege the WCPFC has given to the Philippines comes with a big responsibility of proving that we are worthy and this will determine whether we can go beyond the allowed period,” he added.

The recent Philippine Tuna Fisheries Profile shows that the access in High Seas Pocket 1 since October last year contributed an average of 755.8 tons of tuna catch per month to the total tuna production, from October 2012 to May 2013.

Skipjack tuna consistently comprises the bulk of tuna catch since 2011 followed by yellow fin and eastern little tuna, respectively. JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ

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