Benjamin Tabios, assistant director for administrative services in the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources
Coastal fishermen

Efforts to support Philippines fisheries pay off - Fisheries production in the Philippines has grown at an average rate of about 7% a year since 2002 due to a large increase in aquaculture output while the government steps up efforts to develop sustainable coastal and deep water fisheries.

The Philippines now ranks eighth in the world among leading fishing countries according to the FAO, with a total annual production of around 4.7 million metric tons (mt) of fishery products, including seaweed.

“Marine fisheries is a growing industry in the Philippines recording a 3-4% annual growth rate in tonnage terms and about 6% growth in value which is a higher rate of growth,” commented Benjamin Tabios, assistant director for administrative services in the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. “Aquaculture production is growing at about 11% annually in tonnage terms. This figure does not include ornamental fish.”

Aquaculture has become the largest and fastest growing fisheries sector during the past decade. Currently aquaculture accounts for 47% of total fisheries production while small scale municipal fisheries represent 28% of fisheries output and commercial fisheries 23%.

In 2007 aquaculture production reached 2.2 million mt, up 5% from 2.1 million mt the previous year. Fish, mollusks and crustaceans account for almost one third of aquaculture output in tonnage terms while aquatic plants including seaweed is about 1.5 million mt a year, making the Philippines the world’s second largest aquatic plants producer.

Commercial fisheries production in 2007 was 1.2 million mt, up almost 10% from the previous year while municipal fisheries production caught in coastal waters by artisanal fishing boats under three gross tons was 1.3 million mt, an increase of 6% over the previous year.

“We are in a transition. Philippines’ fisheries are moving from marine capture to aquaculture. We are trying to reduce the impact of fishing on the environment,” Mr Tabios noted, “We are moving to aquaculture to a hopefully more environmentally friendly activity for local fish supply and for export. We want to retain our coral reef fishery biodiversity by reducing pressure on marine fisheries capture.”

Aquaculture activities vary in different regions. Region 1 in the northwest of the main island of Luzon involves the use of sea cage mariculture while Region 6 in Panay and Negros Oriental islands in the central Visayas region involves the use of pond farms to rear the widely popular milk fish known locally as bagus.

Fish ponds also are used widely in Region 3 in central Luzon and Region 4 in southern Luzon. Elsewhere, Regions 8 and 11 in the southern Mindanao area of the Philippines are witnessing a growth in the use of sea cages to rear milk fish.

“Bagus milk fish is cooked many different ways,” Mr Tabios remarked, noting that milk fish production from brackish water in 2007 was 220,000 mt. “All fish in the Philippines are eaten with rice.”

Tilapia is another popular species with fish farmers. In 2007 some 130,000 mt of tilapia were raised in freshwater ponds and 79,000 mt in freshwater fish cages.

“In Region 3 tilapia are reared mainly in ponds. Cages are used when the saline tilapia variety is reared which we developed here,” Mr Tabios said. “The Philippines is the largest tilapia producer in the world. We did not expect we could increase tilapia production four fold and we still do not export this fish. Tilapia is popular fried here.”

The growth of aquaculture production has exceeded both the government and United Nations FAO projections in recent years, raising hopes that increased aquaculture output can help ease pressure on overfished marine stocks through the Philippines archipelago.

“Five years ago we accepted the FAO’s proposition that in 10 years time aquaculture should become 50% of fisheries production. At that time marine capture was 60% of our production and aquaculture 40%. Five years later, at the end of 2008, we were already 50:50 marine capture and aquaculture, so we are ahead,” Mr Tabios said.

“Now we see aquaculture going further. Currently 60% of our Fisheries Bureau activities are focused on aquaculture, so the split could be 60% aquaculture and 40% marine capture eventually. The reason for this is that we would like to rest over-fished areas. We have already introduced a closed season in some areas.”

Meanwhile, fish consumption has risen in both rural and urban areas in recent years as the volume of fish production has grown each year. Fish is extremely important in the countryside where sardines and rice is the staple diet for many people. In major urban centres the popularity of fish is evident in the decision of various fast food chains to add fish options to their menus.

“Five years ago there were no fish dishes in McDonalds or our local Jollibee fast food chain,” Mr Tabios noted. “Now they offer fish fillets from big head carp and tilapia. There has been a shift in Philippines’ eating habits. People are eating more fish than before. People used to favour round scad which used to be a fish price indicator. Now tilapia is the indicator. If the price of tilapia is going up then inflation is increasing.”

The Philippines is one of the world’s largest archipelagos stretching 2,000km from north to south and consisting of 7,107 islands with an estimated 36,000km of coastline. The total territorial water area covers 2.2 million square kilometres of which 266,000 square kilometres are coastal waters and 1.9 million square kilometres are oceanic.

Some 832, or 54%, of the country’s 1,541 municipalities are located in coastal regions. Some 25 major cities are located on the coast including the capital Manila with 62% of the 86 million population living in a coastal zone.

The marine and coastal areas of the Philippines include a large area of productive ecosystems that include about 25,000 square km of coral reefs, sea grass and algae beds. In addition about 138,000 hectares of mangroves remain from an estimated 450,000 hectares in 1920.

With 430 species of corals, 2,300 species of fish, 16 species of sea grass, hundreds of seaweed species and thousands of marine invertebrate species, the Philippines has one of the richest marine and coastal ecosystems in the world.

Not surprisingly, the benefits derived from the coastal ecosystem are substantial. Coral reefs alone are estimated to contribute at least US$1 billion annually to the domestic economy, a figure that would be much greater with improved coastal management.

As part of efforts to develop sustainable coastal fisheries, the government is mid-way through a seven year project to improve coastal fishery resources in 68 municipalities in six provinces in the central and southern Philippines regions that will prove model projects for similar schemes elsewhere in the country. The Asian Development Bank has provided a US$33.8 million loan to support the project that includes reforesting mangroves, establishing protected coral reef areas and assisting fishermen to set up new fishing village enterprises.

Fisheries is an important source of employment in the Philippines with about 1.6 million people engaged in fishing and related activities, accounting for about 5% of the labour force. About 68% of those employed are in the coastal fisheries sector. In total about one million families living in coastal regions are dependent on coastal and marine resources for sustenance. About 76% are estimated to be low income households.

An estimated 470,000 fishing vessels below three gross tons are thought to operate in the Philippines inshore waters. Of these about 292,000 or 62% are non-motorised while 178,000 or 38% are motorised.

The nation’s commercial fishing fleet numbers about 6,370 vessels of three tons and more, belonging to 2,360 fishing operators.

Fisheries production in 2007 was worth Pesos 180.5 billion, up 10% over the previous year. Interestingly, municipal fisheries produced the fishing industry’s highest value catch worth Pesos 64.21 billion in 2007 reflecting the high value of some species caught including yellow fin tuna and frigate tuna. By comparison the commercial fisheries marine catch was worth Pesos 54.7 billion in 2007 while, aquaculture production was worth Pesos 61.6 billion.

Round scad, sardines and tuna are the main species caught by the commercial and municipal fishing fleets.

In 2007 the commercial fleet caught 244,000 mt of round scad accounting for 20.5% of the total commercial catch while the municipal fleet caught 75,000 mt equal to 6.6% of the catch.

The commercial fleet caught 123,600 mt of frigate tuna, 152,000 mt of skipjack and 82,600 mt of yellow fin tuna in 2007 along with 47,700 of bonito tuna. The municipal fleet caught 67,800 mt of frigate tuna and 51,800 mt of yellow fin tuna the same year.

Sardines are widely eaten in the Philippines. In 2007 the commercial fleet caught 186,000 mt of sardines accounting for 16% of the total commercial catch while the municipal fleet caught 120,000 mt accounting for 11% of the municipal catch.

Most sardines are canned for local consumption. About 600 million to 650 million cans of sardines are produced each year, the number of cans having fallen by about 10% to 15% in recent years due to a decline in the sardine catch.

Canned sardine prices are a political issue in the Philippines due to their importance in the staple diet of low income families. With canned sardine retail prices now more affordable due to a fall in tinplate prices, the government is taking steps to ensure improved sardine supplies are available for canning.

“We are inaugurating government facilities to ensure year in and year out supply of sardines for canning. We are setting up a cold store in Zamboanga del Norte in the southern Mindanao island to hold a buffer stock of sardines,” Mr Tabios explained. “The facility can store 400 tonnes of fish so the sardines will be available for canning. The cold store will stock up during the high season.”

“Sardines are caught mostly in our national waters. There are many sardine bottling plants as well. Sardines in glass jars are not for common people. People return these empty bottles which can be recycled for other uses at home.”

Meanwhile, the Fisheries Bureau is working to ensure that fishery exporting companies comply with new European Union regulations that are due to be introduced next year governing the import of fishery products. The EU is one of the major markets for the Philippines fishery exports after the United States which takes 27% and Japan which takes 12% of fishery exports.

Some 173,000 mt of fishery products worth US$570 million were exported in 2007, down 9% compared with the previous year. Tuna, seaweed and prawns are the three major exports accounting for 65% of the country’s total fishery exports.

Fishery imports in 2007 were worth $154 million and included frozen fish such as tuna which are imported for processing and re-export in cans. Mackerel are the other major imported fish species.

“We are going to comply with the 1005/2008 EU regulations. Almost all our activities are geared to this. This applies to all we export to Europe, especially canned tuna,” Mr Tabios said. “The EU is to implement the new regulations by 1 January 2010, but we need to start. We have introduced a traceability scheme so we are compliant with all the EU fishery regulations for accredited fish exporters.

“In future we will have to certify that no illegal, unreported unregulated fishing is involved. The Bureau of Fisheries will certify that.”

The Fisheries Bureau presently is developing procedures that will involve the fishing industry and fish processors. Exporters of fish products that are processed and canned for sales in Europe will need to provide evidence that the fish were caught by registered fishing boats during open season months and records showing the fishing boat name, place of fishing and that the catch is landed in a legal fishing port.

“Fish processing is a big industry here. We export fresh, chilled and frozen tuna to Thailand, the United States and Spain. We also import tuna for processing,” Mr Tabios said, noting that total tuna product exports are worth US$218 million annually. “Canned tuna exports are mainly to the United States and Germany, but they may distribute to other EU countries. The canned tuna value is higher than fresh and chilled tuna exports.”

Tuna are caught in the Philippines territorial waters from January to June each year. Most of the tuna caught are yellow fin which are sent to Davao fish market in Mindanao where they are graded and the sashimi quality tuna are separated for export to Japan. Other tuna grades are used mainly for canning.

Filipino fishermen also catch tuna in Indonesian waters.

“Indonesia allows fishing boats of less than 35 tons into its waters. These boats are 30 metres long and fitted with an outboard motor. This is called artisanal fisheries in other countries,” Mr Tabios remarked. “These fishermen catch two to 10 tuna per trip. There is a big difference between the good grade yellow fin which is double the price of the wet market grade yellow fin tuna.”

Tuna exports are the Philippines largest fishery exports followed by seaweed, shrimp and prawns, and crab products.

In 2007 the Philippines exported 48,280 mt of canned tuna worth US$125 million along with 26,860 mt of fresh, chilled or frozen tuna worth $93.6 million.

“The United States is our biggest market overall while Europe is main canned tuna market,” Tabios said, “But total European imports are almost as large as the United States which is why we are complying with EU regulations.”

As part of efforts to develop small scale municipal fishing to increase income levels among coastal fishermen, the government is planning to open two new fishing ports in the southern and central Philippines.

One fishing port is planned for Bicslig Bay in eastern Mindanao to cater to tuna hand liner fishermen. Currently the Fisheries Bureau is negotiating with the state-run Philippines Ports Authority to take over the unused port and turn it into a new fishing port.

The other new port the government is providing for fishermen is at Tacloban on Leyte island in the central Visayas region.

“We will turn a municipal fishing port there into a bigger port. We can only do these two ports projects one at a time. It needs a lot of money to do this,” Mr Tabios said.


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