Oceana: Fish importation policy may hurt fisherfolk, needs participatory review

Press Release Date

January 25, 2019

The Philippines' plan to import fish anew to contain food prices will not fix the real problems that are preventing the Philippines from producing its own food from the sea, according to Oceana, the largest international organization working exclusively to protect and restore the world’s oceans.

“Short-term imports may actually put long-term food security and fisherfolk at risk. The issues haunting fisheries management can only be solved through a more comprehensive and participatory plan,” said lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, in response to a Bloomberg report that the Philippines is preparing to import fish again.

The Philippines is the eleventh largest fish producer globally, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as of 2016. Ramos said stakeholders from government, private sector and civil society organizations need to work together to curb overfishing, halt the decline of fish supply and ensure sustainable income for fisherfolk.

In the Philippines, it is estimated that 56% of Filipinos’ animal protein comes from fish, and 91% of fish caught in-country are consumed domestically. Not only is fish a vital food source, it also provides livelihood for millions of Filipinos.

“Illegal fishing remains a huge problem in our country. Commercial fishers continue to enter and illegally fish in municipal waters in unfair competition with the artisanal fisherfolk for the declining fish supply, while foreign fleets poach high-value species. Destructive fishing – such as blast fishing, bottom trawling and the capture of young fish before they can grow into adulthood – is a significant threat to the health of fish populations and the livelihood of fishing communities,” Ramos said.

“We have highly productive fisheries. If managed sustainably, our oceans can feed the growing Philippine population and achieve economic growth and security. But 75% of our principal fishing grounds are already overfished. Municipal fishers bring home fewer large fish while working longer hours, if they are lucky enough to catch any.” she added.

“We call on the government to fully implement the provisions of the amended Fisheries Code. The said law mandates high penalties for fishing violations, such as illegally fishing within the 15-kilometer municipal waters reserved for smaller-scale fishermen, damaging important and inter-connected habitats like corals, seagrasses and mangroves and using unlicensed fishing gear. It also requires vessel monitoring systems, which will identify and track behavior of commercial fishing boats that are operating within Philippine waters and allow artisanal fishers to maintain access to fishing grounds in their local waters,” said Ramos.

“There is a vast reservoir of skills, talent and energy of citizens and entities committed to help government sustainably manage our fisheries, as the survey done by the Social Weather Stations in 2017 revealed. Let’s tap them, involve them in decision-making and engage them as they should be in protecting our oceans and restoring them to vibrancy and good health”.

Ramos said that the fish in the market has become more expensive due to the downtrend in fish catch and their size has become smaller as fish populations become less productive due to overfishing.

“People are aware of this problem. The impact on marine biodiversity is not just evident to the scientists, but also to consumers and fisherfolk,” she said.

A survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) commissioned by Oceana in 2017 found that 82% of Filipinos believe fish sold in markets are more expensive now compared to 10 years ago. Meanwhile, 54% of respondents said the size of fish has become smaller and 55% said they found less varieties of fish in local markets compared to a decade ago.