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Mindanao's Role in Pacific Fisheries Highlighted

PHILIPPINES - Even as consumer demand for canned and sashimi tuna drops worldwide due to the financial crisis, the conservation and management of fish stocks remains a top priority for industry leaders at the 11th National Tuna Congress in the country's 'Tuna Capital'.

"Changing mindsets towards sustainable fisheries" is the theme of 11th National Tuna Congress, which will be held from today until 29 August at the General Santos City Gymnasium.

The event will focus on measures to ensure the appropriate management of tuna resources, including expanding industry cooperation towards responsible fisheries, and new regulations governing illegal and unregulated fishing.

"It makes sense to focus on sustainability in order to save the industry, even if we have to make some sacrifices" said Marfenio Tan, CEO of San Andres Fishing Industries, Inc., and president of the General Santos-based SOCSKSARGEN Federation of Fishing & Allied Industries, Inc., lead organiser of the Tuna Congress.

The event is being supported by the General Santos City Government, South Cotabato 1st Congressional District Office, the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Department of Trade and Industry, the SOCSKSARGEN Area Development Project Office and USAID's Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program.

While the volume of tuna catches unloaded at "Gen San" has remained constant for the last 12 years, in that same period the city's annual tuna exports doubled to $300 million, driven largely by the development of value-adding sub-industries.

At the same time the Federation, whose members include purse seine and hand line fishing groups, canners, processors, traders and aquaculture producers, continued to advocate sustainability measures such as using nets with a larger mesh size, to avoid depleting juvenile populations of tuna.

Working closely with Philippine government agencies, the private-sector Federation played a role in the creation of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, a treaty-based organization aimed at conserving and managing tuna and other highly migratory fish stocks.

The trans-border nature of tuna fisheries management is reflected in the congress programme, which includes plenary sessions on maritime boundary and baselines law issues, fishing access and fisheries cooperation between the Philippines and resource-rich Pacific island countries, and the status of the Pacific tuna tagging project.

"We have to ensure our access to neighbouring countries like Indonesia, and farther off in places like Micronesia," Tan said.

Industry analysts note that the past year's drop in consumer demand for canned and sashimi tuna and the corresponding cutback in fishing operations may in fact have helped ease pressure on stocks of yellowfin and bigeye tuna.

Mr Tan recalled that following the rise in fuel prices a few years ago, which drove firms to slow their catch operations, fish populations appeared to grow healthier.

"A lot can be done in one to three years to help fish recover," said Mr Tan. "But political will is needed."

the Fish Site Editor

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