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Philippine Industry Wants Tuna Lobby Group

The tuna industry has made an urgent call to Malacañang to establish the Philippine Committee for the Advancement of Highly Migratory Fisheries (PCAHMF) as a lobby group to defend the country’s interest in global fisheries organizations like the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). This call was embodied in a resolution passed during the 15th National Tuna Congress held in General Santos City recently.

With the presence of the PCAHMF, the Philippines will have a “stronger hand” in the WCPFC, particularly now that a multiyear management program for bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tuna will be implemented from 2014 to 2017.
The commission establishes measures to ensure long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks like tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

As it convenes its 10th regular session in December, new or enhanced measures are expected to replace interim conservation measures currently in place.

During the ninth WCPFC regular session held in Manila in December last year, government sent a delegation led by Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairman Luwalhati Antonino and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Director Asis Perez to lobby for the approval of the Special Management Area (SMA) and fishing access to Pacific High Seas Pocket 1. The commission approved the SMA and allowed 36 traditional ice-chilled boats from the Philippines to fish in the high seas pocket 1 for one year, boosting the country’s commercial fish production and revitalizing the tuna industry that has been sagging since the tuna ban was imposed in 2008.

“Based on our experience last year, we realized that we must exert a strong and united presence in the WCPFC to ensure our tuna industry gets its rightful share from this global resource and protect the gains of the industry,” Antonino said in her keynote speech at the congress.

The Tuna Congress resolution said that while the country successfully lobbied for fishing access in the 9th WCPFC, there is yet no permanent body to officially represent the Philippines to the succeeding regular sessions of the commission and to other conventions of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. It also cited the “compelling” need to create a permanent body that will serve as the Philippine representative to the WCPFC that will carry forth the interests of the tuna industry as the commission convenes in December this year to discuss the multiyear management program for tuna stocks.

The PCAHMF is proposed to be co-headed by the secretary of the Department of Agriculture and the MinDA chairman, with the BFAR as secretariat. It will have high-level representation from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry, and industry players as well.

Antonino expressed full support to the creation of the committee, citing current global issues on fisheries having impact on the country’s tuna industry.

Commercial fish production in Soccsksargen has suffered a setback since the tuna ban was imposed, with the dismal performance of negative 37.94 percent posted in 2011.

Antonino also discussed opportunities in the light of the country’s integration to the bigger Asean Economic Community in 2015, citing strategies and vital programs to make Mindanao more competitive in the Asean community. One such strategy is intraregional connectivity within Asean and BIMP-EAGA through the establishment of the Davao-General Santos-Bitung RoRo operations in the last quarter of this year.

Filipino tuna traders based in Bitung, Indonesia, and tuna processing facilities and canneries in General Santos are expected to gain from this linkage that will make shipment of goods to and from China cheaper and faster, cutting down the original cost of $1,200 per 20-foot equivalent unit to only $900 TEU.

Antonino also announced that the Philippine Economic Zone Authority has already released the Certificate of Concurrence for the GenSan Economic Zone.

Tuna processors are seen to benefit from this 46.77-hectare special economic zone in Barangay Tambler where manufacturing and processing plants are located.

Another strategy is the development of export gateways and growth corridors that will strengthen Mindanao’s local supply-chain system and make its industries more efficient and competitive by linking inter-province and inter-city road networks and undertaking ports improvement across its regions.

“For the Southern Mindanao Economic Cluster for example, we will refurbish the road networks to the Davao-General Santos City export gateway so that our tuna processors and key industry players have enhanced access to potential international markets,” Antonino concluded.