Big Tuna: The Philippines' Fishing Woes

By Yu, Min | Harvard International Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Big Tuna: The Philippines' Fishing Woes


Yu, Min, Harvard International Review


Home to six of its country's seven operating fish canneries, General Santos City is dubbed the tuna capital of the Philippines. Each day, around 280 tons of giant tuna are prepared and processed there for worldwide distribution. Within 24 hours of being unloaded from fishing boats, the fresh tuna will be served as ruby red sushi and Sashimi in the world's finest restaurants. The Philippines' 2006 tuna production ranked fourth in the world at 500,000 tons, approximately 8 percent of the global total. The 2008 total, however, ranked seventh, as production dropped 22 percent. During the first four months of 2008, daily fish unloading at the General Santos City port dropped by 26 percent from the year before, from 256 metric tons on average to 190 metric tons on average. This trend poses a significant challenge to the Filipino tuna industry, which is caught in a trade-off between short-term profits and long-term stability.

More difficult fishing conditions, attributable to global warming, are partially responsible for this decreased yield. According to Noel Barut, a Filipino scientist who works as deputy executive director of Manila's Fisheries Research Development Institute, global warming has been altering ocean currents and increasing water temperatures worldwide; as a result, Bluefin tuna, which are highly migratory, have had to venture farther and farther from land to find water temperatures around six degrees Celsius, their ideal habitat. As a result, Filipino fishermen have had to travel increasingly greater distances to ply their trade. Traveling farther means more fuel consumption, an expensive proposition. Fishing boats are fuel-intensive, and oil prices have increased rapidly in recent years. Consequently, Filipino fishermen are spending about US$3,850 to US$9,600 per trip, accounting for what Marfenio Tan, chairman of the tenth Tuna Congress, has estimated to be 45 to 70 percent of operating costs. Fishermen are disinclined to pay increasingly higher prices to travel increasingly greater distances for tuna, and their hauls have decreased as a result.

The most important challenge facing the Filipino fishing industry, however, is overfishing. As the Bluefin tuna is highly prized by sushi aficionados, it is considered solid gold by fish traders around the world, as one specimen can fetch GBR[pounds sterling]60,000. As demand continues to increase--with Japan alone consuming about 500,000 metric tons of sashimi-grade tuna per year--the issue of overfishing has become a serious problem. According to the International Commission for the Conservation of Tuna, a Madrid-based organization that regulates tuna fishing, the Bluefin tuna population off the eastern seaboard has declined by more than 90 percent since 1970. The drastic decline in the tuna population has caused the quantity of landed fish to plummet; General Santos City Fish Port Authority Manager Mike Lamberte says that tuna catches in the area for the first six months of 2008 dropped by 34 percent compared to the same period in 2007. This sharp drop inflicts pain on the entire Filipino industry. The six General Santos City canneries employ around 15,000 regular and casual workers, while fresh and processed tuna production employs around 2,000 more. …

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