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Unsustainable Practice Will Devastate Fish Sector

by Ellen Hardy
8 April 2008, at 1:00am

PHILIPPINES - A group of fishermen has warned of a forthcoming deficit in domestic fisheries production. The huge losses will be a due to overfishing and unsustainable aquaculture practices that are beginning to push local fisheries to the verge of resource collapse.

The Kilusang Mangingisda, a national coalition of 14 fishermens federations, said that the deficit has existed since 2005. The nation's fisheries production could not keep up with further increases in the demand for food fish due to a growing Philippine population and the situation would get worse.

Ruperto Aleroza, chairperson of Kilusang Mangingisda, cited data from the Comprehensive National Fishery Industry Development Plan (CNFIDP). It showed an expected increase in the demand for food fish from 2.6 million metric tons (mt) in 2005 to 4.2 million mt by 2025. This increase is based on the individual Filipinos average yearly fish consumption of 31.4 kilos multiplied by 135 million Filipinos, the expected population by 2025 at a yearly growth rate of 2.36 percent, he explained. The CNFIDP is a strategic fisheries development plan prepared jointly by the government and various stakeholders in the domestic fisheries sector.

Based on the CNFIDP projection, the food-fish deficit of 205,159 mt in 2005 would increase to 585,000 mt in 2025, averaging in a yearly deficit of 403,000 mt, said Aleroza. This deficit is primarily due to over fishing which has gone unchecked since the 1970s. This has also pushed capture fisheries production beyond the maximum sustainable yield since the 1980s. Now local fisheries are on the verge of collapse.

Fish stocks are only about 10-30 percent of their levels in the 1940s and 1950s. The average fish catch has declined to only a sixth of the rate in the 1950s, he pointed out.

Aquaculture No Help

Aleroza disputed governments claim that aquaculture is a better alternative to capture fisheries. He said that as a source of food, aquaculture is presently inferior to capture fisheries since 70 percent of aquacultures yearly production is composed of seaweeds that is used primarily for industrial purposes and not consumed as food. Also, in its present form, aquaculture remains unregulated and saddled with un sustainable practices. Mangrove conversions to fishponds, although illegal, persist to this day. Excess feeds and organic wastes in fish cages pollute coastal waters and continue to cause fish kills, Aleroza said.

The Kilusang Mangingisda blamed governments market-driven policies in fisheries production for the neglect of fisheries and aquaculture management and the lack of support for municipal fishers, despite the fact that they make up about 90 percent of the fisheries labor force and contribute a third of total fisheries production.

The Arroyo government continues to equate development with private investments, market access and export-oriented production, while ignoring worsening issues of weak management, socio-environmental costs and resource depletion. It has not provided support for small producers like the municipal fishers who play an important role in ensuring food security and livelihoods in coastal communities, Aleroza argued.

To address the food fish deficit and related issues, Kilusang Mangingisda is proposing the following measures:

  • Rationalize fishing effort not to exceed the maximum sustainable yield of 1.9 million mt.

  • Develop and expand commercial fisheries in the waters of the Exclusive Economic Zone since these are relatively unexploited.

  • Develop standards for responsible aquaculture to mitigate or prevent adverse socio-environmental impacts in aquaculture production.

  • Provide capital loans and technical assistance to small-scale and sustainable aquaculture initiatives of municipal fishers.

  • Provide adequate post-harvest facilities (eg. refrigeration, freezers and cold storage) to minimize fish losses due to spoilage.

Ellen Hardy