General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Forum (WWF) have swapped sharp remarks after the environment groups said it is no longer appropriate to call the city the Tuna Capital of the Philippines.

Rivera said the conventional rule is catches landed in the country are regarded as Philippine catches regardless of origin.

More than 90 percent of the country’s annual tuna catches are landed in General Santos City.

Rivera will open the 16th National Tuna Congress today where some 600 delegates are expected to attend the annual event that is permanently hosted by General Santos City.

Greenpeace and WWF, along with other environment groups, claimed catches landed in General Santos are not caught in the city, but well outside of the country’s territorial waters.

Greenpeace has been calling for strong government regulation on purse seine fishing due to 16% big eye tuna stock remaining in Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

Brisk tuna trading in General Santos City. Pic: Edwin Espejo.

A new tuna capital?

WWF earlier said Mindoro is now emerging as the tuna capital of the Philippines.

This was quickly downplayed by Rivera who said, “What they (in Mindoro) caught in one month, we get in three hours of operations.”

Over the last five years, General Santos produces an average of 750 tons of yellowfin tuna every month.

The Philippine Fishport Development Authority in General Santos reported a total fish catch of 167,578.75 tons (167,578,750 kilos) in 2013 alone.  More than 80 percent of the fish landings in the city are tuna and tuna-like specie.

More than 90 percent of the tuna landings in the city, however, are tuna-like species like skipjacks, frigate tunas and bonitos.

The 2013 volume of fish landings in the city is the highest in five years.

In the first half of 2014 alone, PFDA reported a total of 104,310.96 tons of fish landings already at the fishport complex.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has been calling for a 165,000 metric tons ceiling for tuna catches in the country.

Better prizes

Tuna trader Eliseo ‘Rock’ Garay nevertheless confirmed that some of the big yellowfin tuna catches from Mindoro have ended up at the city’s fishport complex.

“Fishermen and traders from Mindoro bring their catch in the city because they can get better prices of their tuna here,” Garay said in an earlier interview.

Former Peace Corp volunteer and American John Heitz, another long time fresh chilled tuna exporter here, said it is not only Mindoro that is bringing their catches in General Santos City.

“Fishermen and traders from Davao and Palawan sometimes also bring their catch here,” he said.

General Santos regularly flies boxed chilled yellowfin tuna to the US and Japan.

Fresh tuna exporters here used to have an allocation of 10 tons of cargo space in Philippine Airlines flight from this city.

Cebu Pacific has also begun accommodating tuna cargoes from the city.

Prices of sashimi-class yellow fin tuna were between P270 to P300 per kilo at the fishport in yesterday’s trading, September 3.

Frozen tuna

Over the last five years, however, more than half of tuna landings in the city are frozen tuna.

From 2009 to 2013, a total of  397,908.77 tons of frozen tuna arrived at the PFDA complex in Tambler – for an annual average of 79,581 tons

Of the total frozen tuna landed in the city over the said period, 324,284.93 tons came from foreign origin.

All frozen tuna ended up in the city’s six tuna canning plants.

Mayor Rivera has repeatedly conceded that the city will no longer be able to land as much tuna as the city’s fishermen enjoyed more than a decade ago.

Rivera’s family is owner of the city’s biggest tuna fishing company, RD Fishing.

RD Fishing has however concentrated their operations in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

They also own Philbest Canning, one of the country’s 7 tuna canning plants, and part owner of Celebes Canning.

The RD Group will open a canning plant in Indonesia in October.