The Philippines: Catching tuna the sustainable way

Jonathan L. Mayuga Business Mirror 27 Aug 17

Meet Francis Silosia. At 36, he is already the captain of Ryan 628, a medium-scale commercial fishing vessel based in General Santos City, considered as the “tuna capital” of the Philippines.

This reporter met him on August 16 on board Ryan 628, which is one of seven commercial fishing vessels owned by a local businessman he works for.

Silosia, sitting on top of a blue container drum, flashed a smile as we shook hands when we were introduced to each other by Jimely Flores, a marine biologist at Oceana Philippines.

Silosia and some of the crewmembers were busy preparing for their next fishing expedition. One of them was overhauling a small engine while another was painting a smaller boat atop the katig, or outrigger to stabilize the boat.

Vessel monitoring

Oceana is pushing for the implementation of Republic Act (RA) 10654, or the Amended Fisheries Code, which requires commercial fishing vessels to install a vessel-monitoring device for proper monitoring and tracking.

An international ocean-conservation advocacy group, Oceana, said commercial fishing vessels often encroach the country’s 15-kilometer exclusive fishing ground for municipal fishers, and sometimes, even raid “no-take” marine reserves declared as protected areas under National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.

Municipal fishing grounds are supposed to be for the exclusive use of municipal fishers.

The Philippines has a total of 240 protected areas, including national 70 marine-protected areas (MPAs), 30 of which are predominantly marine areas.

There are also over 1,500 locally managed MPAs all over the country, where fishing is regulated, if not totally banned, to protect the breeding grounds of fish and other marine wildlife.

Oceana is eyeing to sponsor the subscription of 100 small-scale commercial fishing vessels for one year using the Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise Inc. (FAME) technology to boost its advocacy.

According to Oceana, two-thirds of the country’s fishing grounds are already overfished.

Recently, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Oceana Philippines have launched a project, dubbed as “Sagip Sardines”, to conserve and protect the fish species which is now being threatened by overfishing.

The project aims to create a National Management Framework Plan for sardines—the first of its kind in the Philippines—to address excessive sardines fishing and ensure the sustainability of the industry.

Commercial fishing is seen as the culprit behind overfishing. Besides excessively fishing, commercial fishing often use destructive or unsustainable fishing methods.

Unlike handline fishing, large-scale commercial fishing vessels use active gear, and are also known to use fish-aggregating device, or locally known as payao.

Trawling is the most destructive among commercial-fishing methods. It drags the net at the bottom of the ocean, often destroying corals.

The use of payao aggravates commercial fishing, as it attracts all sorts of fish—big or small—resulting in accidental by catch of nontargeted fish that are not commercially viable.

Pilot testing

Flores, along with Roger Guzman, Oceana’s legal policy officer; Aga Khan M. Salong, a member of the Quick Response Team of BFAR-Soccsksargen; and Ronaldo Aguila, the chief technology officer of FAME, just finished installing the FAME transponder which will track and monitor Ryan 628 as it sails to catch those commercially viable tuna.

The pilot-testing of the FAME transponder is in preparation for the nationwide implementation of RA 10654.

FAME is charging a monthly subscription of P800. The transponder and its installation is free of charge for a minimum subscription of three months, said Arcelio J. Fetizanan Jr., FAME CEO.

Section 2 of RA 10654 states that no commercial fishing vessel can fish without putting in place vessel-monitoring measures, which is basically a telecom or radio frequency-based monitoring system.

Large commercial fishing vessels, which usually fish beyond Philippine waters—whether in high seas or in exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other countries—are mandated to install satellite-based vessel monitoring system so they could be tracked anywhere, anytime while on a fishing expedition.

Handline fishing

On board the Ryan 628 are more than 20 of drums which contain either diesel, gasoline or the crew’s fresh-water supply.

The diesel is for the engine of Ryan 628, while the gasoline is for the smaller skiff boats called pakura.

Water is important while on a fishing expedition. Ryan 628 will be out fishing in the waters of Surigao for at least three weeks, which requires the crew to cook their food, and consume water for drinking and bathing.

Ryan 628 makes use of the handline fishing, which is considered as the most environment-friendly and sustainable fishing method. It basically makes use of hook, line and sinker to catch one fish at a time, in Ryan 628’s case, the commercially viable tuna.

Silosia has a total of 23 crewmembers. “We are just preparing things” for a fishing expedition in a few days, he said.

From General Santos City in Soccsksargen, it takes at least three days to reach Mangagoy or Bislig, which is part of the country’s EEZ off the waters of Caraga region’s Surigao del Sur—one of the country’s tuna-fishing grounds.

There, Silosia and his crew, using the smaller skiff boats, will catch tuna using squids as bait attached to the hook, and apple-sized rocks as sinker.

“It’s seasonal. If we are lucky, we get to go back after 15 days. Sometimes, we had to stay for a month just to catch enough tuna to cover for the cost of our operation,” he said in mixed Tagalog and Visayan languages.

He added to cover for the cost of gasoline and food of the crew, they have to catch at least 100 tuna with an average weight of 40 kilos.

Learned skill

Like most fisherman, Solisia said he started fishing at the young age of16. Because he learned how to trouble shoot and fix the boat’s engine, he became a second engineer in 2010.

It was only recently that he finally got the chance to run his own fishing vessel as captain.

He said Ryan 628 will not go beyond the Philippines’s EEZ, although sometimes, he admits some commercial fishing vessels go as far as Indonesia or China to catch fish.

Silosia is not much into high-tech gadgetry but he knows what transponders do.

“I was told by my operator that they [BFAR and Oceana people] will install the vessel-monitoring device today,” he said.

Flores said the boat, which is made of wood, has a gross tonnage of 26.6 tons and is, hence, classified as a medium-scale commercial fishing vessel under RA 8550 as amended by the amended Fisheries Code.

The gross tonnage (GT) of the vessels classify commercial fishing whether it is small scale (3.1 GT to 20 GT), medium scale (20.1 GT to 150 GT) or large scale (150 GT and above).

Lucrative trade

General Santos City hosts the biggest tuna landing area in the city’s fish port. In fact, a separate market is dedicated for big tuna alone.

The industry employs thousands of tuna catchers. There are around 3,000 commercial fishing vessels based in General Santos City. A small-scale fishing vessel hires an average of 20 tuna-catchers and crew.

Richard Intia, or Teteng to his fellow catcher, said while the job is difficult, it pays to be a tuna catcher, who earns a commission for every tuna he catches.

One time, he said he earned P15,000 for the 15 tuna caught during that fishing expedition.

“I was happy to bring home that amount of money. Everyone was happy. We had a little celebration,” he said. The 23-year-old father of two started tuna catching at 14.

The industry provides jobs and livelihood, not only to tuna catchers, but to a lot more whose livelihood directly or indirectly depend on the day-to-day tuna-catching activities—including exporters, food processors, fish dealers, market vendors and ice dealers.

Tuna is sold whole, then chopped and packed. Even internal organs, fins and tails of tuna are sold, processed as fishmeal.

Every day, commercial fishing vessels dock at the fish port to unload their haul. On the average small-scale commercial fishing vessels bring 100 tuna weighing around 40 kilograms (kg) to 50 kg. Some tuna being sold at the fish port weighs up to 100 kilos.

Tuna is sold at P180 to P220 per kg, depending on the quality of the meat. Romeo Ortiz, a tester, checks the quality of tuna meat. He has been working at the fish port since he was a teenager.

Mario Liquit, 74, remains employed as a consultant of Arnold Sison, who is in the buy and sell of prized blue marlin and black marlin.

“If am lucky, in three hours I am done buying tuna. I sell them in Manila, to where I bring them via plane. I can earn as much as P10,000 a day,” Sison said.

His buyer, he added, chops and repacks the tuna for export.


The tuna industry in the Philippines continue to grow as more have expressed interest in catching the fish, an official of the BFAR Soccsksargen Office told the BusinessMirror.

Despite a moratorium in the processing of new applications, new commercial fishing vessels have been sighted in General Santos City, said Ely Borbon, chief of the BFAR Soccsksargen’s Leasing and Licensing Section.

The three-year moratorium, which started in 2014, will end by the end of this year. This means the BFAR will have to accept and process new applications starting next year, Borbon added.

According to the Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) of the United Nations, the value at land of the 2010 catch of the principal species was more than $10 billion.

The species are landed in numerous locations around the world by fishing vessels from more than 85 countries, the FAO reported.

The FAO reported that the main tuna stocks are currently more or less fully exploited, some are overexploited and very few are underexploited.

As such, the FAO said that the future sustainability of tuna fisheries calls for improved and strengthened fisheries management through incentives for international cooperation and for better national monitoring and fishery management; innovative systems for monitoring and management; and capacity development for fisheries research and management, particularly in developing countries.

The Philippines is a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The country is also a party to various regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), such as the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and other tuna RFMOs

As such, the Philippines is compelled to implement measures, such as vessel-monitoring systems in accordance with the convention and resolutions of RFMOs.

Unless catching tuna on a massive scale stops to allow the remaining tuna stocks to repopulate, there will less tuna to catch soon, and none of the species left later on.