"Our future as human beings depends on our intelligent and prudent use of the oceans." -Nelson Mandela

A juvenile skipjack (left) and a yellow fin tuna (right). The average mature skipjack weighs 8-10kgs while the average mature yellow fin tuna, 140kgs. Photo ©Vince Cinches/Greenpeace

The recent Pole and Line Forum in General Santos City, the Tuna Capital of the Philippines, opened up many major fronts in our campaign to push for sustainable fisheries. It also examined exactly how intelligent and prudent we have been with our oceans.

The conference highlighted the long-running problem of overfishing in the country, with emphasis on solutions discussions. In particular, it focused on alternatives such as the pole and line method to fish skipjacks.

Overfishing is a serious problem. Last year’s Philippine Environment Monitor (published by the World Bank) noted that if the current rapid human population growth and the declining trend in fish production continue, only 10 kg of fish will be available per Filipino per year by 2020, as opposed to the 28.5 kg in 2003.

One of the speakers in the forum, Ibrahim Athif Shakoor, a native of Maldives and the secretary general of the International Pole & Line Foundation, explained how sustainable fishing has made Maldivian fisheries socially and economically equitable.

He added that the pole and line method has allowed a greater population of coastal communities to participate in tuna catching, and in equally profiting from it. Pole and line vessels cost only around US $330,000 and employs more fishermen, compared to $25 million to $30 million purse seine fleets (big ships that make use of large walls of netting), which employs less.

Global tuna fisheries are found mostly in the waters of poorest communities in the world. Compared to the current mainstream tuna catching methods such as purse seiners with fish aggregating devices (FADS), pole and line fishing does not involve the bycatch of sharks, dolphins, and turtles, and put less pressure on fish populations, thereby ensuring food security and jobs for the future.

Fish importation

A couple of weeks before the forum, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources was compelled to come up with an order that will ensure a wider and transparent importation of multiple fish species for the domestic market because of declining fish catch in the country.

According to the national stock assessment program of the bureau, 10 of the 13 fishing grounds that were mapped are “very heavily exploited” these identified areas have more than 70 fishermen per square kilometre. Imagine what overfishing does to an archipelagic country whose majority of the daily animal protein requirements comes from fish.

Reducing capacity to fish 

Majority of the catch in Market 2, General Santos fish port are juvenile tuna. Photo ©Vince Cinches/Greenpeace


The forum organized by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Socksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries (SFFAI), and Greenpeace Southeast Asia, brought in more stakeholders’ input on how to address the problem of overfishing that is hounding the industry and the rest of the country.

Participants from the local business community, academe, local government, blogging communities, fisherfolks, as well as consumers, proposed that a regular close season should happen to allow fish stocks to recover.

An earlier statement by former SFFAI president Marfenio Tan believes that reducing purse seine tuna vessels from General Santos from 162 to 50 will help sustain the industry.

In response to various comments and inputs from the participants, the BFAR advocated three major steps to manage the country’s depleting tuna catch. These are reduction of fishing vessels, reducing the number of fishing days, and adopting a closure season especially in known tuna spawning areas.

Give fish a chance

The forum stirred a lot of interest, including on certification from tuna handline groups, which was discussed by Bill Holden of the Marine Stewardship Council. Local local handline fishermen have long been for sustainability certification—to which participant Jose Ingles, WWF tuna strategy leader said, "Your desire to consider certification is music to my ears," addressing the local handline group’s representative.

All in all close to 200 people from various sectors attended the forum. We have achieved our objectives on this one and then some—and have raised the bar on the debates about tuna and sustainability.

One evening before the forum, Socksargen bloggers came up with a clever slogan “Give Fish a Chance.”


Vince Cinches is Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia - Philippines. You can follow his updates on Twitter via @vincecinches.


For us at Greenpeace, we believe you can help.

  1. Demand that your supermarket and tuna brand source sustainable tuna. Look for tuna cans with “Pole and Line” or “Hand-Caught.”
  2. Ask your politicians and business leaders to support the creation of marine reserves. Add your voice here to tell governments to support marine reserves!
  3. Learn about where your fish is from- is it from far away? How many of this fish is left? Knowing what you're eating and making the right decisions is important.
  4. Tweet for the oceans, too!