By Vina Medenilla
The Philippines is ranked as one of the major fish producers in the world. Based on the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), over a million Filipinos rely on the fishing industry as their livelihood. Knowing that fish is one of the biggest protein and income providers for many Filipino households, sustaining the industry is vital.
However, the majority of the Philippine fishing zones are now overfished. Nygiel Armada, Chief of Party of USAID Fish Right program, underlined the need to address this challenge by increasing public awareness on these fisheries issues. So far, there has been an improvement in harvesting and fishing practices.
To achieve a sustainable industry, collaborative efforts of the market and consumers are expected. Policies must be observed, especially by the big industry players.
Responsible Seafood Sourcing for a sustainable future
Responsible Seafood Sourcing (RSS) policy refers to principles and rules intended for companies to follow in purchasing and processing seafood and seafood products responsibly. In the Philippines, these are mainly obeyed by international hotel chains and huge seafood processing companies with a global market presence. RSS involves elements that must be present in sourcing seafood, including traceability, sustainability, transparency, and social responsibility.
While there are factors that drive more companies to adopt and follow the RSS principles, abiding by the RSS also comes with challenges. Pedro Ferreiro, fisheries markets director of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), tackled this during the industry workshop on Responsible Seafood Sourcing (RSS). Weak demand, low market awareness, premium prices, and scarcity in supply of sustainable and responsibly-sourced seafood are some of the things that make it difficult to implement RSS policies.
Despite these problems, Ferreiro said that companies must look at the potential of the growing middle-class citizens and that must interact with the younger consumers as the future of the Philippine market.
What’s illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and overfishing?
Promoting sustainability for the whole industry starts with the interest of the public and the market that play a huge part in the supply chain. Josette Genio, Sustainable Markets Specialist from SFP, has differentiated terms that many are unaware of.
Illegal fishing refers to activities performed by Philippine fishing vessels that disobey Philippine laws, resolutions, and laws of the local government units and other countries. This includes fishing with no license, in prohibited areas or season, using illegal fishing gears and methods, or fishing species protected by the law.
Unreported fishing pertains to those activities that are not reported or have been misreported to the authorities.
Unregulated fishing refers to engaging in “activities conducted by (a) vessels without nationality but operated by Filipino and/or Filipino corporation; (b) Philippine-flagged vessels operating in areas managed by [Regional management organization] RFMOs to which the Philippines is not a party to; or (c) Philippine-flagged vessels operating in areas or fish stocks where there are no applicable conservation and management measures.”
Lastly, overfishing means gathering fish from the water where the existing numbers could not be restored.
If any of these illegal acts are undertaken, whoever commits the crime will be penalized through the confiscation of fish and gear, along with a fine depending on the value of the catch.
From small-scale fishers to the biggest seafood retailers, brands, and foodservice companies, everyone must take part in reducing the impacts of fish farming to sustain our resources and the livelihood of many fishing families and communities.