Philippine tuna faces twin storms

Published by rudy Date posted on February 14, 2009

GENERAL SANTOS CITY: Global warming and the economic crisis are not far-fetched stories for people here. Tuna industry players in this southern Philippine city have in fact already felt the pinch from the twin problems.

Renowned as the country’s “Tuna Capital,” General Santos provides thousands of tons of tuna fish every year for local and international markets.

Daily in this coastal city, around 280 tons of giant yellow-fin tunas are prepared and processed for distribution all over the world. In less than 24 hours after being unloaded by fishermen from their vessels docked in this city’s world-class fish port, the fresh tuna will turn into pink sushi in finest foreign bistros thousands of kilometers away.

But fishermen have recently found their catch decreasing because of the global warming and oil price disturbances.

Marfin Tan, a tuna company owner engaged in the industry for two decades, said his catch has dropped significantly in recent years, adding that less tunas can be found within nearby waters.

Last year, the industry saw a slide of 22 percent in its production.

Three years ago, the Philippines’ tuna production ranked the fourth in the world, reaching 500,000 tons, some 8 percent of the global total. By contrast, it came to only the seventh in 2008.

The Sulu Sea waters have been the traditional fishing area of fishermen, especially of tuna catchers, but these days they have to venture farther to catch the fish.

“Most of our fishermen catch their fish in the waters of Indonesia,” said Miguel Lamberte, a port manager of the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority in General Santos.

Global warming

A Filipino scientist, Noel Barut, who works as deputy executive director of Manila’s Fisheries Research Development Institute, said global warming is one of the major reasons why the Philippines’ tuna stocks keep going down. According to him, there are indications of continuing migration of tuna species into cooler parts of the oceans.

As the global warming affects the current of the oceans, tuna, which is migratory in nature, would transfer to waters where the temperature more suitable for them, Barut explained.

“If the climate change will continue, tuna will also continue to look for temperatures they like and it will be difficult for our part,” he added.

Trying to find a solution, Filipino traders are planning to set up tuna-breeding facilities in the country.

“But it’s a little bit expensive,” said Tan, the tuna trader.

“Although we still have supply of tuna for our exports, time will come, maybe in the next 20 years, when we will experience shortage. So we must invest as soon as possible,” said Philip Ong, fisheries committee chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Oil and financial crisis

The surge of oil prices last year was another reason leading to the loss of production.

“Our fishing industry is fuel intensive. Meaning if the cost of fuel is high, our fishermen’s effort to catch fish will be lessened,” Lamberte said.

“Our fishermen are spending about $3,850 to $9,600 per trip in their oil expenses,” he added.

Meanwhile, the ongoing financial crisis has also taken its toll on the tuna industry, with weaker demand from traditional tuna markets in the Unites States and European countries.

Reacting to that situation, Filipino tuna players have been shifting their marketing focus from the traditional markets to China, among others.

Tan told Xinhua news agency that his company has been exporting their frozen and canned tuna to major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

“This is favorable to us since we have also clients there,” Tan said.

With a population of 1.3 billion, China is likely to become a great market for the Philippines’ tuna industry, he added.

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