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With climate change, amended Fisheries Code no guarantee for ample seafood supply: academics

The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Government celebrated the first anniversary of the Amended Fisheries Code on Monday, saying the law amended to lift a ban on Philippine fish products by the European Union (EU) is a boon to fisherfolk and the environment.

Among the drumbeaters for the new code were Senator Cynthia Villar, main author of the law, Greenpeace, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Mindoro Tuna Fishers Association, and several other groups.

The Amended Fisheries Code, its supporters say, allows “Philippine seas to recover by combatting illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing.”

EU has been leading a global charge against IUU even as most of European fisheries had been depleted by trawling fleets that mine the bottom of the oceans for fish and other marine products.

Spanish fleets have also ventured into the Pacific in search of tuna while Chinese fishing fleets are depleting the South China Sea, the Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean as Beijing seeks to protect its coastal waters, where fishing is banned.

China has also created artificial islands in the contested areas of the Spratlys, killing the reefs where giant clams, called taklobo in Philippines, and groupers and snappers grow.

While the Philippines, Greenpeace and Senator Villar are concerned with IUU, they have spoken little about the impact of climate change, ocean acidifcation and the change in migratory habits of pelagic (open water)species like tuna, as well as the loss of sardines and anchovy populations as sea surface temperatures (SST) rise.

Pressures on marine life

On February 22, 2016, Dr. William Cheung of the Nereus Program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) said “a range of human pressures is threatening the sustainability of marine fisheries.

Among those, overfishing, partly driven by Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, is a major stressor. Thirty percent of global fish catch goes unreported, a recent study by Nereus Program collaborator Sea Around Us found out.”

Cheung stressed that climate change impacts on fisheries may indirectly increase IUU fishing, thus dampening any sanguine hope that the Amended Fisheries Code was silver bullet that could mitigate the problem.

For her part, Remelyn I. de Ramos of the Marine Science Institute (MSI) of the University of the Philippines in Diliman (UP Diliman) said during the Agricultural Development Seminar Series (ADSS) at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) in Los Banos, Laguna on March 10, 2015 that the sea surface temperature (SST) in the Philippines increased by 0.64 degreee Celsius from 1951 to 2010 and warned that this could lead to a change in physiology and sex ratios of fished species, altered timing of spawning, migrations and peak abundance, increased invasive species, diseases, and algal blooms.

“Increases in greenhouse emission concentrations in our atmosphere contributes to ocean warming, decreases in oxygenation levels, and ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is the decrease in the pH of oceans due to the absorption of CO2; it affects calcifying organisms, like oysters, clams, and corals, which have difficulties building their shells in more acidic water,” Cheung noted.

However, he said the bigger problem for fisheries in the tropics, principally the Philippines, is that “fish stocks are also shifting tens of kilometers per decade toward the poles or into deeper waters in response to ocean warming.”

He predicted that “globally, potential fisheries catches are projected to redistribute to high latitude regions, with a large reduction in potential catches in the tropics, of up to 30 percent in some regions.”

Cheung added: “The tropics is among the areas where communities are most dependent and vulnerable to fisheries resource depletion. If traditional fisheries resources decrease because of climate change, fishers may need to shift their fishing grounds, or engage in alternative fishing methods to compensate for their loss. Shifts in distribution of fish stocks may also destabilize existing fisheries management, such as by-catch quotas, or bi-/multi-lateral agreements on straddling fish stocks.”

“Moreover, fish stocks shifting to new habitats may create opportunities for new fisheries that do not yet have management and reporting frameworks, such as fisheries in the Arctic. Climate change impacts on vulnerable communities may also drive migration and increase pressure of coastal fisheries resources. All these factors could increase incidences of and complicate measures to combat IUU fishing,” Cheung warned.

Fishing is a strategic industry in the Philippines and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said in 2014 that

“In 2012, the Philippines ranked among the major fish producing countries in the world with a total production of 3.1 million metric tons of fish (MMT), crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatic animals. Aquaculture contributed 790 900 MT, or 25.4 percent, to the total fish production. Much of its production is consumed locally with per capita fish consumption amounting to 32.7 kilos in 2011. In addition, the Philippines is the world’s third largest producer of farmed seaweeds with a production of 1.8 million tons in 2012.”

FAO said fishing and aquaculture are crucial to rural communities, where they employed an estimated 1.5 million people in 2010 nationwide, with fisheries accounting for more than 1 million.

“The fishing industry contributes an estimated 1.8 percent (valued at P196 billion) to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at current prices, respectively in 2012. In 2013, exports of fish and fishery products were valued at $1.2 billion. Tuna was the top export commodity, followed by shrimp and prawns. In the same year, imports were worth $264 million,” FAO noted. 

Nonetheless, total production has not risen since President Aquino took power in 2010, when the output was 3.356 MMT, sliding to 3.13 MMT the following year and 3.113 MMT in 2012.

Only aquaculture seems to improve, with harvest placed at 744,700 MT in 2010, 767,300 MT the following year, and 790,900 MT in 2012.