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Philippine Initiatives Struggling to Keep Apace

PHILIPPINES - The Philippines is an active member of five regional initiatives on fisheries and aquaculture cooperation including a project establishing partnership with Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) that led to several projects contributing to sustainability of marine resources in the region.

This is in line with the State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) vow of President Arroyo to energize the agriculture and fisheries sector.

Philippine agriculture grew by a high 4.7 percent in six months to June as against 3.74 percent in the same period in 2007 as government stepped up farm spending in keeping with the President's agriculture-related SONA thrusts.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Arthur Yap said the Arroyo government's initiatives on aquaculture and fisheries cooperation also include Identification and Control of Food Safety Hazards in the Production of Fish and Fisheries Products in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Region for health certification and Quarantine Measures for the Responsible Movement of Live Food Fish.

"Fishery resources across Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia-Pacific are increasingly under pressure"
Dr. Joebert Toledo, head of Iloilo-based Aquaculture Department of SEAFDEC

He said the Philippines has been a lead participant in establishing the ASEAN Shrimp Alliance to enhance the region's capability to respond to challenges of international trade in shrimp and shrimp products.

The country likewise participated in setting up ASEAN Network on Aquatic Animal Health Centers as a tool to facilitate diagnostic and certification capabilities in ASEAN member-countries critical for exporting live aquatic animals, he continued.

"We were also the lead country in completion of the ASEAN-SEAFDEC project on the Promotion of Mangrove-Friendly Aquaculture in Southeast Asia and have contributed to the preparation of the Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices," said Yap in a speech read for him by Director Gil Adora of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) during a recent forum hosted by the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna.

The Iloilo-based Aquaculture Department of SEAFDEC is headed by Dr. Joebert Toledo.

In Southeast Asia, some 38 million people directly engage in fisheries for their livelihood and half a billion people depend on fishery products for food and protein intake.

With remarkable advances in technology for fishing, processing and aquaculture as well as in quality control and hygiene management, the region became one of the world's major suppliers of marine products, Yap said.

"However, fishery resources across Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia-Pacific are increasingly under pressure while many people - mostly the most marginalized - depend on these resources for subsistence survival and small basic incomes," he said.

Adora said this is the reason close cooperation among Southeast Asian countries is necessary to guarantee sustainability of fishery resources in the region.

SEAFDEC, the Philippines through BFAR headed by Malcolm Sarmiento Jr. and seven other Asian countries have started tagging five species like galunggong and hasa-hasa in the South China Sea and Andaman Seas under a three-year collaborative research on the migration patterns of small pelagic fishes in these waters, Adora said.

Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia (Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak), Vietnam and Myanmar are the other country-partners in this project.

Also, BFAR and SEAFDEC are strictly monitoring entry and culture of Peneaus vannamei or Pacific white shrimp broodstocks as part of the country's efforts to double shrimp production to over 100,000 metric tons (MT) in five years so it can regain its previous status as one of the world's top shrimp producers.

DA last year lifted the ban on importation and culture of Vannamei shrimps.

Toledo said consensus was reached during a recent national gathering of shrimp growers that three factors are essential to boosting shrimp production.

These are culture of specific-pathogen free or specific-pathogen resistant broodstock and high-health fry; use of probiotics, bio-security measures and other best management practices as well as marketing the right size of shrimps demanded by consumers plus compliance with food safety regulations.

As for BFAR's fish tagging project with SEAFDEC and seven Asian countries, Sarmiento said it involves inserting special number-coded yellow tags at the base of the dorsal fins of individual fishes.

The fishes are then released back into the sea and their tags are expected to be returned to the nearest fishery agency by fishermen who catch these.

Sarmiento said this project is designed to let researchers determine migratory path of these species.

This will lead to development of a regional management plan for sustainability of small pelagic fisheries in the region.

Citing 2005 data from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Yap said fisheries production of the top four Southeast Asian nations - Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - amounted to 15 million MT.

Indonesia was the top producer (6.5 million tons of the 2005 output) followed by the Philippines (4.1 million tons), Thailand (3.7 million tons) and Vietnam (3.4 million MT).

As part of President Arroyo's SONA commitments, government so far established 33 mariculture parks and 134 fish sanctuaries while turning over 415 post-harvest equipment to fisherfolk.

Among these new mariculture parks is the one in Sibutu East and North Lagoon, Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi province.