IF fish were cars, then tuna would be the Ferraris of the sea. Ranging in size from the 1.5-foot bullet tuna to the gigantic 15-foot Atlantic blue fin, these tasty torpedo-shaped fish are among earth’s most valuable marine commodities. Connoisseurs pay top peso, dollar, euro and yen for juicy slices of sashimi plus luscious, mouth-watering tuna steaks.
The Philippines is the world’s third largest tuna producer. Almost half of its seafood exports come from yellow fin, skipjack and frigate tuna. However, the unregulated use of giant nets called purse seines and floating aggregation devices called payao are rapidly depleting stocks. Many of the country’s tuna fisheries are severely overfished.
In June 2014, the European Union issued the Philippines a yellow card for failing to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing—a precursor to a total EU import ban on Philippine seafood products. Acting decisively, the Philippine government led by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) revamped the country’s fisheries laws—and the yellow card was lifted by April 2015.
To promote sustainable fishing and fair-trade practices, environmental solutions provider World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is working to secure Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for two yellow fin tuna fishing sites in 2016—the Lagonoy Gulf covering the provinces of Albay, Catanduanes and Camarines Sur, plus the Mindoro Strait in Occidental Mindoro.
Both areas are migratory pathways for yellow fin tuna—fat fish armed with impressive sickle fins. Yellowfin are the country’s most valuable tuna species and account for a third of global tuna production. WWF is a close ally of BFAR in promoting responsible fisheries.
“Securing the country’s first MSC certification to promote sustainable fishing is an excellent way to transform our tuna industry,” explains WWF-Philippines Partnership Programme Towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST) project manager Joann Binondo. “This stamp-of-approval adds immense market value to tuna sourced from our country. Consumers in Europe, Japan and America will know that the fish they are eating were caught fairly and sustainably.”
Developed with scientists, conservationists and fisheries experts, MSC is an independent organization which creates and polishes environmental standards for sustainable, equitable and well-managed wild fisheries. It has certified 265 fisheries across the globe, which altogether account for 10 percent of all wild-capture fisheries.
WWF’s Partnership Program Towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST)
Since 2011, WWF has been working to enhance yellow fin tuna management practices for 5000 fishers in 112 tuna fishing villages around the Lagonoy Gulf and Mindoro Strait.
WWF’s PPTST project has organized tuna fishing associations in all 15 municipalities in the Lagonoy Gulf, plus six LGUs in the Mindoro Strait. It spearheaded the registration and licensing of tuna fishers, vessels and gear to minimize bycatch and illegal fishing, deployed 1000 plastic tuna tags to make the fishery traceable, and completed a series of training sessions on proper tuna handling to ensure that exported tuna continually meet international quality standards.
“PPTST harnesses market power and consumer demand to promote sustainably-caught tuna and support low-impact fishing methods like artisanal fishing with hand-line reels,” adds Binondo. “It is the first and only Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) for artisanal fisheries in the Philippines.”
Funded by Coop, Bell Seafood, Seafresh and the German Investment and Development Corporation, PPTST involves European seafood companies plus their local suppliers, BFAR, local government units in the Bicol region and Mindoro, the WWF Coral Triangle Program, WWF-Germany plus WWF-Philippines.
Concludes WWF-Philippines President and CEO Joel Palma, “Far-sighted management guarantees the continued productivity of our fisheries – ensuring that the 100,000 people employed by the tuna fishing industry will continue reaping the bounty of the sea.”