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Philippines Bans Tuna Fishing and Tuna Trade

THE PHILIPPINES - The Department of Agriculture (DA) has issued a Fishery Administrative Order (FAO) prohibiting the trade of small tuna effective this month in an aim to conserve its tuna stocks.

Raising fish production anchored on the principle of sustainable development has been pursued by the Arroyo government through, among others, the establishment of mariculture parks and fish sanctuaries.

In pursuit of the President’s SONA thrusts, the government has thus far put up 34 mariculture parks and 134 fish sanctuaries. One of these mariculture parks is the sprawling one in Tawi-Tawi in Sibutu East and in North Lagoon, Sitangkal in fulfillment of Mrs. Arroyo’s promise to the people of that province in her 2007 SONA.

DA Secretary Arthur Yap said the new directive, which will take effect this month (September), will make it unlawful for any person, association, cooperative, partnership or corporation to operate tuna purse seine nets with mesh sizes smaller than 3.5 inches or 8.89 centimeters at the bag or bunt portion in catching tuna.

"The tuna-fishery resources have been exploited by purse-seine nets"
DA Secretary Arthur C. Yap

“Small tuna” refer to young tuna that weigh less than 500 grams apiece, and include yellow fin tuna, big eye tuna, and skipjack tuna.

Under Fisheries Administrative Order 226, it will also be unlawful to trade small tuna caught beyond the by catch ceiling of 10%.

“Tuna is one of the top marine export products of the Philippines and the tuna-fishery resources have been exploited by purse-seine nets, which are observed to catch significant number of small tunas,” said Yap in FAO 226.

Yap issued FAO 226 upon the recommendation of DA Undersecretary Jesus Emmanuel Paras and Director Malcolm Sarmiento of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR),

In keeping with the President’s SONA commitments, the DA has also been carrying out other measures to conserve the country’s fish resources for the use of future generations.

These ecology-friendly initiatives include the ongoing fish tagging by the Philippines and seven more Asian countries of five commercially- important fish 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.

Sarmiento said the Philippines is undertaking this tagging project for mackerel and round scads species in partnership with Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia (Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak), Vietnam and Myanmar.

This three-year research project is an offshoot of a regional study of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Council (SEAFDEC)—entitled ‘Information Collection for Sustainable Pelagic Fisheries in the South China Sea’—to determine the relationship of small pelagic stocks in Southeast Asian countries, including their biology and population.” SEAFDEC, whose aquaculture department is based in Iloilo and is headed by Dr. Joebert Toledo, has been, according to Sarmiento, “an active partner in the development of the country’s fisheries resource towards sustainability. Together with 10 other SEAFDEC member-countries, the Philippines has been seriously promoting the adoption of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in Southeast Asia.”

He said that SEAFDEC is an intergovernmental organization tasked to promote sustainable fisheries development in Southeast Asia with eleven member-countries, namely, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The tagging of fish involves the insertion of special number-coded yellow tags at the base of the dorsal fins of individual fishes. The fishes are released back into the sea and their tags will hopefully be returned to the nearest fishery agency by the fishermen who catch them.

This project is designed to let researchers determine the migratory path of these species, which, in turn, will eventually lead to the development of a regional management plan for the sustainability of small pelagic fisheries in the region, he added.

In issuing the FAO, Yap noted that the harvest of small tuna has caused alarm and “grave concern” because it affects the replenishment of tuna stocks as significant numbers are caught before reaching maturity.

He said that the commercial fisheries sector in the Philippines is now showing the strains of reduced catch as purse-seine nets contribute to the harvest of small tuna.

Sarmiento noted that FAO 226 was issued in compliance with the conservation measures for juvenile tuna--particularly bigeye and yellow fin— adopted by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, of which the Philippines is a member-country.

Violators of the new fishing and trading rules will be fined P2,000 to P20,000, or face imprisonment of six months to two years, or both penalties, depending on the court’s discretion.

The DA will also cancel the licenses or permits of fishing companies found guilty of violating FAO 226 provisions.

Under FAO 226, operators will be given a grace period of three years from the effectivity of the order to change or replace their nets gradually.

“However, the compliance of the nets to the legal mesh size should start in the first year of the grace period where 10% of the total number of purse-seine catchers should phase out the illegal mesh size; on the second year it will be 20%, and on the third year will be 70%,” the order stated.

Tuna purse seine refers to a type of fishing gear that surrounds a school of tuna fish attracted by payao lights or from free school or drifting logs using a rectangular net with floats at the upper portion and purse rings at the lower section, where the purse rope or cable passes through to close the net bottom during fishing operations.

The net is either hauled manually or through a mechanical or hydraulic net hauler or power block.