GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Despite widespread anxieties over rapidly declining tuna stocks 2014 was a banner year for General Santos City as total fish landings at the fishing port complex reached 193,867.55 metric tons (MT), the highest in 12 years.
The 2014 figure was a hefty 14 percent increase over the 167,578.75 MT total catch in 2013.
Approximately 92 percent of the total fish landings in General Santos City are tuna and tuna-like species with more than 80 percent going to the canning and processing plants here.
It is the third consecutive year that fish landings in the city had increased over previous year levels after a significant decline in total catch in 2011 when the total reached only 112,890.81 MT.
The 2011 total landings were the lowest in six years, 27 percent lower than the previous year total of 143,139.17 MT in 2010.
Last year’s total catch was however boosted by frozen tuna landings which reached 92,387.36 MT in 2014 or 47.65 percent of the total landings.
Tuna canneries in General Santos City began importing frozen tuna both from Manila and other foreign origins in 2008 after local tuna catches began to slacken.
Over the last seven years, 53 percent of the tuna canning requirements have been supplied by frozen tunas coming from Manila (23.38 percent) and from foreign imports (76.62 percent) for a total of 537,491.88 MT from 2008 to 2014.
Without frozen imports, locally produced tuna catch in 2014 (101,480.19MT) still fell short over the 105,690.21 MT landings by local tuna producers in 2007.
Local production dipped at its lowest in 2011 when the catch figure reached only 47,993.66 MT, the lowest since 2003.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which has been monitoring global tuna stocks and data catches, began raising alarms over overfishing of tuna stocks at the turn of the millennium.
In 2009, member countries of WCPFC agreed to a two-month annual ban on tuna fishing using fish aggregating device.
It expanded the ban to complete ban on purse seine fishing operations in 2 Pockets of High Seas in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean while also extending to 3 months the annual ban on FAD fishing.
The ban on purse seine and FAD fishing operations in the High Seas began in 2010.
In 2012, however, the Philippines was granted 2-year exemption to the ban on purse seine fishing in Pocket 1 High Seas. The exemption has since been extended.
The Philippines is among 26 member countries and eight member territories in the Western and Central Pacific region.
It is a signatory to several conservation measures including ban on the annual FAD fishing which runs from July to September every year.
WCPF blamed the alarming depletion of tuna stocks to overfishing and climate change.
Local producers and tuna fishing operators also attributed the decline in local catch to increasing protectionism among countries in the tuna-rich WCPFC areas, including neighboring Indonesia which began requiring Filipino fishing operators to invest in processing and manufacturing plants to gain access to its fishing grounds.
Indonesia earlier required Filipino fishing vessels operating in its fishing grounds to hire Indonesian crew.
In 2006, Indonesia opted to terminate its bilateral fishing agreement with the Philippines, sending Filipino fishing operators scrambling for other fishing grounds.
It forced several Filipino super seine operators to establish canning and processing plants in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
Among the General Santos City-based Filipino fishing companies that are now largely operating outside Philippine fishing grounds are RD Fishing and TSP Marine.
Also maintaining operations in Papua New Guinea is Frabelle Fishing, the country’s largest tuna fishing company while Damalerio Fishing is operating in Indonesia.