Philippine tuna fishers will have to wait a further two months before the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) decides whether or not to lift the two-year ban on purse seine tuna fishing using fish aggregating devices in two pockets of seas in the Western Pacific region.

The WCPFC was supposed to meet in Palau in December last year to decide on the ban but moved its meeting to March in Guam this year following a big fire that hit the Western Pacific island country.

But then again, Filipino tuna fishers are not guaranteed they can resume tuna fishing as the commission is reportedly leaning towards extending the ban.

In 2010, WCPFC began enforcing a two-year ban on tuna fishing following studies that tuna stock has been declining due to over fishing.

The Philippines is the world’s fourth largest producer of fresh chilled and canned tuna products. But in recent years, the Philippine tuna catch has been on the decline.

PROPOSED TOTAL TUNA FISHING BAN. Yet another threat to the rapidly changing horizon of the Philippine tuna industry

Marfenio Tan, former president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII), said rising weather temperatures and over fishing are among the major contributors to the declining tuna catch. Tan said the WCPFC is inclined to extend the ban but could move to totally ban tuna fishing in two pockets of fishing grounds in the Western Pacific region.

“The WCPFC will convene on the last week of March in Guam and part of the discussions will center on whether the fishing ban will be extended or (purse seine fishing in the Pacific) will be totally banned,” Tan said.

One of the areas covered by the ban, at coordinates of 135 degrees to 152 degrees longitude and one degree to six degrees north of the equator, is a rich source of tuna stock, according to Tan.

The area referred to by Tan covers more than 306,000 square miles of open seas south of Micronesia and north of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea where over 38 Philippine-flag purse seine fishing ships used to operate.

The tuna industry accounts for 12 percent of the country’s total fish production and employs about 120,000 workers, with General Santos City as the acknowledged center of the industry. Annual export earnings from the tuna industry are pegged at about $280 million. Philippine purse seine catches dramatically declined by 36.5 percent between 2010 (147,780 metric tons) and 2009 (93,760 MT). The 2009 catch itself is 23.8 percent less than the 2008 catch (194,076 MT). Tuna cannery receipts also indicated that tuna catches declined by seven per cent in 2010 at only 78,182 metric tons.

The Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines also reported that the country’s tuna production dropped by 20 percent in the first three quarters of 2011 as a result of the continuing fishing ban.

The Philippines has been lobbying for the lifting of the ban on purse seine tuna fishing in international waters. It will be sending a high-level delegation to the Guam meet of the WCPFC that will be comprised of the departments of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry, Mindanao Development Authority and fishing industry leaders.