Philippines steps up assistance to small scale fishermen

22 Oct 2015
Fish on sale at a supermarket in the Philippines

Fish on sale at a supermarket in the Philippines

The Philippines government has recently launched a major investment programme to improve agricultural and fisheries production as part of long term plans to increase rural incomes and boost social development in the country’s poorest regions.

In addition to targeting low income communities, the investment programme will help with infrastructure reconstruction costs to support the rebuilding of fishing and farming communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan Yolanda that struck the Philippines central Visayas region on 8 November 2013, causing widespread destruction of fishing ports, fishing boats, farms and local communities. 

Financial support for the investment scheme includes a US$500 million loan from the World Bank and other international credits. Apart from loans to small scale fishermen to buy fishing boats, nets and other equipment, the government is funding infrastructure construction to support fisheries and agricultural development.  

Facilities being built include fish landing centres and all-weather roads in rural areas to enable fishery products and agricultural goods to be transported to local markets. 

Landing centres
Among new initiatives the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) recently has announced plans to build 252 community fish landing centres in strategic locations across the country to improve socio-economic conditions in low income fishing communities. 

Launching the project in Tanza, Cavite, Philippines Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala explained that building the new fish landing centres is aimed at reducing post-harvest fisheries losses from 25% to 18% or lower through providing suitable modern facilities where fish can be landed and sold. 

“The construction of the fish landing centres is part of the government’s commitment to deliver precise interventions and promote inclusive growth in the fishery sector,” Mr Alcala said. 

Costing PNP 2.85 million (US$62,000) each to construct, the community fish landing centres will house post-harvest equipment and facilities to keep fish and fishery products in good condition. This should enable fishermen to sell their catch for a higher price than is possible at traditional fish landing stations that many fishermen now use. 

Local consumers will benefit from the fish landing centres, Mr Alcala noted, as they will have better access to safe fishery products.  

In addition to their main function, the new fish landing centres will be used by BFAR as venues to provide fishery skills training and for other purposes such as monitoring fish catches and for fish stock assessments. 

BFAR has selected sites across the country to build new fish landing centres assisted by the government’s National Anti-Poverty Commission.  

Potential sites have been assessed based on poverty incidence in the surrounding area, municipal population density, fisheries production, the number of registered fishermen in the area, and the number of existing fish ports and fish landing areas. 

Once built, the fish landing centres initially will be operated by local government units and later transferred to local fishermen’s cooperatives to run. 

Information collection
Government plans to support development of small scale fishing communities require more information to be collected about fishermen, fishing boats, fishing equipment and aquaculture facilities so that progress can be monitored and the right assistance provided. 

To improve information collection, BFAR has launched a smart phone application in cooperation with Philippines mobile phone operator, Smart Communications Inc, to fast track the bureau’s national programme to register municipal or small scale fishing boats and their fishing gear.  

Municipal fisheries and agriculture officers are being provided with mobile tablet facilities to access the application and enter data. 

BFAR also has launched a national programme to register municipal or small scale fishermen as part of wider measures to monitor the fishing industry in different localities and promote sustainable fisheries development.  

As an incentive to encourage municipalities to collect and file their data promptly, the Bureau is offering grants worth PNP 2 million each to the first 100 municipalities to complete and file their fishermen database entries to invest in local fishery-related development schemes. 

Employment
Fisheries are an important sector in the Philippines economy, employing about 1.6 million people, according to government figures. Municipal fisheries employ 1.37 million people while the aquaculture sector employs a further 226,000 people.  

In addition, 16,500 fishermen are employed in commercial fishing on large vessels that operate in the Philippines waters and areas of the Pacific catching tuna and other species. 

According to the latest government figures, total fisheries production in 2013 (including seaweed) reached 4.7 million metric tons (mt) worth PNP 244.6 billion. 

In tonnage terms, total production fell 3.3% or 200,000 mt, down from 4.9 million mt in 2012. Part of the reason for the drop in fisheries output in 2013 was the serious impact of Typhoon Haiyan Yolanda on the aquaculture and municipal fisheries sectors in the central Visayas region after the storm struck in November that year. 

Damage caused by the storm continues to affect fisheries and agricultural production in affected areas as work continues to repair the damage and support rebuilding of affected rural communities. 

Aquaculture is the Philippines largest fisheries sector with production reaching 2.37 million mt in 2013, down 6.6% from 2.54 million mt the previous year. 

Municipal fisheries consisting of small scale and artisanal fishermen is the second largest fisheries sector with total production of 1.26 million mt in 2013, down 1.3% compared with the previous year. 

Commercial fisheries, meanwhile, was less affected by the typhoon damage and recorded a 2.4% increase in production in 2013, registering a total catch of 1.07 million mt, up from 1.04 million mt the previous year. 

Government plans to boost marine fisheries development as part of measures to increase family incomes in poor coastal fishing communities are expected to benefit artisanal fishermen along with larger commercial fishing and fisheries processing companies, many of which export their products. 

IUU fishing
With important global fisheries markets such as the European Union insisting that fish exporting countries take effective measures to eliminate IUU fishing, seafood exporters in the Philippines are relying on the government to crack down on illegal fishing to protect small scale fishermen and ensure fisheries exporters enjoy continued access to key international markets. 

Efforts to tackle IUU fishing have been stepped up following prompting by the EU. In June 2014, after more than two years of talks concerning the previous lack of effective measures to control IUU fishing, the EU announced it was giving the Philippines six months to clamp down on illegal fishing or face tough sanctions including selective fishery export bans to member countries. 

Prospects for the future development of the Philippines fisheries industry, in fact, have brightened recently as the government boosts efforts to tackle IUU fishing by using its new fisheries law enforcement training programme to build a national team of fisheries officers charged with eliminating illegal fishing activities. 

BFAR recently announced that a third batch of fishery officers have completed IUU fishing law enforcement training bringing the number of IUU law enforcement officers to have completed the three month training programme to almost 200 since the training scheme was launched in October 2014. 

At the time of writing a fourth batch of fishery officers were due to complete their training programme at the end of October as part of government plans to deploy 700 trained IUU fishing law enforcement officials throughout the country. 

The Philippines is a large archipelago formed by 7,107 islands which poses many challenges for the government in its efforts to prevent and eliminate IUU fishing.  

Most IUU fishing in the Philippines involves large commercial fishing vessels fishing in waters within 15km of the coastline which are reserved for local fishermen.  

In addition, some artisanal fishermen continue to use illegal fishing methods such as cyanide and dynamite which destroy coral reefs and the surrounding ecosystems. 

The government’s determination to strengthen its anti-IUU fishing programme recently has received international recognition following the European Commission’s decision to remove the Philippines from its list of countries charged with implementing effective measures to tackle illegal fishing activities. 

The commission’s announcement in April recognised the Philippines government’s efforts to improve monitoring, control and surveillance of IUU fishing over the past year and is expected to secure the future of thousands of jobs in the nation’s fishing and fishery processing sectors that are reliant on exports to the European Union and other major markets. 

Exports
Fishery exports from the Philippines to EU countries are worth about US$230 million a year, according to BFAR figures, and account for about 15% of the nation’s annual total fishery exports, including 40% of all tuna exports. 

Total fishery exports in 2013 were worth $1.38 billion while fishery imports were worth $300 million, resulting in a net fishery export surplus of $1.4 billion. 

Seafood exports doubled in tonnage terms in 2013 with some 333,465 mt exported during the year, up 101.7% from 165,324 mt in 2012, according to BFAR. 

Tuna, shrimp/prawn and seaweed, the three major export categories, combined accounted for 69% of the total export volume and 69% of the total export value as well in 2013, being 231,130 mt and $967 million respectively. 

Tuna is the largest single fishery export category and accounted for most of the Philippines fisheries export growth in 2013 with some 165,757 mt of products worth $681 million being exported during the year, representing a near threefold increase in export volume and a 65% increase in value. 

Canned tuna accounts for the bulk of tuna exports while the major markets include the USA, Japan and the United Kingdom. 

GSP+ programme
Convincing the EU of its seriousness in tackling IUU fishing is of key importance to the Philippines government which plans to boost exports of fishery products and many other goods to Europe in future by joining the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) programme.  

Joining the scheme would remove tariffs from thousands of products that EU countries import from the Philippines including fishery products on which the EU currently imposes a hefty 24% import tariff. 

“The European Commission has revoked the warning yellow card issued to the Philippines in June 2014 regarding measures to fight illegal fishing. The EU acknowledges Philippines’ efforts to partner up with us in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” the Commission said in statement issued in April when announcing the revoking of its yellow card warning. 

BFAR and Department of Agriculture officials are pleased with the EU’s quick response to efforts to tackle IUU fishing and emphasise the government’s ongoing commitment to control and eliminate the problem.

“The Philippines government through the Department of Agriculture welcomes the latest EU decision as formal recognition of the Aquino Administration’s commitment to put an end to unsustainable fishing practices which compromise not only the country’s marine resources but also the long-term livelihood of around 1.8 million fishery stakeholders,” said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in a statement on the bureau’s website following the European Commission announcement. 

Mr Alcala, also welcomed the Commission’s decision, pointing out that the government’s initiatives to curb IUU fishing are aligned with the country’s international agreements, Asian regional obligations and global market requirements. 

“The Department is pleased with this development as it formally recognises the government’s serious efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of fisheries resource abuse,” Mr Alcala said. 

“The country’s effort against IUU fishing is anchored on its commitment as member of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which adopted the International Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing.  

“In line with this commitment, after a series of consultations with stakeholders, the Philippines formally adopted a National Plan of Action through Executive Order No. 154 which was signed by President Benigno Aquino III in 2013.” 

Meanwhile, in addition to plans to deploy 700 trained IUU fishing law enforcement officers, BFAR is beefing up its enforcement capability with the planned procurement of specialist vessels for officers to carry out their duties. 

Plans include the purchase and deployment of 27 40ft Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) vessels, 70 30ft multi-mission vessels and two 50m vessels equipped with necessary special operations facilities and devices including service fire arms, GPS devices, night vision goggles, scuba gear and, rigid-hulled inflatable rubber boats. 

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