Major players in the tuna industry are calling 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).
In her speech during the recent National Tuna Congress, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairman Luwalhati Antonino said that 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.
“While the country successfully lobbied for fishing access in the 9th WCPFC, there is yet no permanent body to officially represent us to the succeeding regular sessions of the commission and to the other conventions of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations,” Antonino said.
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 multiyear management program for Bigeye, Yellowfin and Skipjack tuna from 2014 to 2017.
The multinational 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 this year, new or enhanced measures are expected to replace interim conservation measures currently being implemented.
During the 9th WCPFC regular session held in Manila in December last year, the national government sent a delegation led by Antonino and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Director Asis Perez to lobby for the approval of the Special Management Area (SMA), which sought fishing access to Pacific High Seas Pocket 1.
The commission approved the SMA allowing 36 traditional ice-chilled boats from the Philippines to fish in the high seas Pocket 1 for one year, boosting the country’s commercial fish production and revitalizing the tuna industry that has been sagging since the tuna ban was imposed in 2008.
“Based on our experience in last year’s WCPFC, we see a compelling need to create a permanent body that will serve as the Philippine representative that will carry forth the interests of the tuna industry as the commission convenes in December this year to discuss the multiyear management program for tuna stocks,” she said.
The Philippine Committee for the Advancement of Migratory Fisheries is proposed to be co-headed by the secretary of the Department of Agriculture and the chairman of MinDA, with the BFAR as secretariat.
It shall have high-level representation from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry, and industry players as well.
Antonino expressed full support to the creation of the committee, citing current global issues on fisheries having impact on the country’s tuna industry.
Tuna catch decline
To recall, commercial fish production in the country’s tuna capital, Socsksargen region, has suffered a setback since the tuna ban, posting a dismal performance of negative 37.94 percent in 2011.
She also noted several opportunities in the light of the country’s integration to the bigger Asean Economic Community in 2015, citing strategies and vital programs to make Mindanao more competitive in Southeast Asia.
“One such strategy is intra-regional connectivity within Asean and BIMP-EAGA through the establishment of the Davao-General Santos-Bitung RoRo [roll-on roll-off] operations in the last quarter of this year,” she said.
BIMP-EAGA is the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines-East Asian Growth Area, while Asean is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Antonino said that Filipino tuna traders based in Bitung, Indonesia, and tuna processing facilities and canneries in General Santos are expected to gain from this linkage that will make shipment of goods to and from China cheaper and faster, cutting down the original cost of $1,200 per twenty-foot equivalent unit to only $900 per TEU.
In a related development, the MinDa chair also announced that the Philippine Economic Zone Authority has released the Certificate of Concurrence for the GenSan Economic Zone. Tuna processors are seen to benefit from this 46.77-hectare special economic zone in Tambler where manufacturing and processing plants are located.
Another strategy, according to Antonino, is the development of export gateways and growth corridors that will strengthen Mindanao’s local supply chain system, and make its industries more efficient and competitive by linking inter-province and inter-city road networks and undertaking ports improvement across its regions.
“For the Southern Mindanao Economic Cluster for example, we will refurbish the road networks to the Davao-General Santos City export gateway so that our tuna processors and key industry players have enhanced access to potential international markets,” she added.
James Konstantin Galvez