Pacific tuna stock on the brink of disaster

Philippines urged to adopt conservation measures and regulate FAD use

Press release - September 3, 2014
General Santos City, Philippines— On the eve of the 16th National Tuna Congress, stakeholders from civil society, non-government organizations and the fisheries sector strongly urged fishing nations like the Philippines to monitor and regulate the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by purse seiners, believed to have contributed to the massive decline in bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks in the region.

Bigeye tuna is one of the most valuable tuna species regularly caught in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean and fetch a high price in the sashimi market. Bigeye tuna overfishing is partly attributed to the failure to manage tuna purse seine fishing associated with FADs- buoys or rafts that drift or are anchored to attract and aggregate pelagic fish, making them easier to find and catch. However, FADs do not increase the abundance of fish, but only redistribute them into a smaller area [1].  

The catch of baby yellowfin and bigeye tuna can go as high as 24% of the total catch for the Philippine purse seine fleet that use FADs in the Pacific High Seas Pocket 1 (HSP1).  In 2013, the Philippine fleet caught a total of 2,774 tons of yellowfin tuna and 478 tons of bigeye tuna in HSP1 [3], but the juvenile haul was undervalued and were only sold at the same price as skipjack tuna for canning, at about 10% of the market price of a mature yellow fin and big eye tuna.

“Tuna handliners are not only feeling the pinch, but they are worried for the collapse of the industry itself,” said Raul Gonzales, spokesperson of the Alliance of Tuna Handliners in General Santos. “Purse seiners usually catch bigeye or yellowfin tuna that is about 40cm long, or one kilogram, similar in size to an adult skipjack tuna for the canning industry. However, that tuna is considered a baby for us in the handline sector. We should only catch the large mature fish that is more than a meter long, using one hook for one fish. This way, we allow the tuna to reproduce and ensure that the stock is viable, not to mention fetch a good market price.”   

Philippine fishing fleets in the high seas have deployed an estimated 3,000 anchored FADs and 7,200 drifting FADs in the Western Central Pacific Ocean [3]. Within the country’s exclusive economic zone, there are at least 3,000 to 5,000 FADs, with the numbers constantly on the rise due to a lack of regulation and an active program by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to deploy and encourage the use of FADs.  

“The scale of the challenges in the way we do our fishing in the Philippines is catching up on us and everyone will be affected, from the fisherfolk down to the consumers. All sectors must work together and call for stricter policies to stop the decline of our fish stocks,” said Dinna Umengan, a representative from the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (NFARMC).  

“Juvenile fish can be as high as 100% of the catch in purse seine and ring nets using FADs in Philippine waters. Our current fishing practices are no longer sustainable and have far reaching effects beyond the country’s territory. We need to find a way to address this problem urgently if we want a viable tuna industry in the future,” said Jose Ingles, Policy Officer for the World Wide Fund for Nature – Coral Triangle Program.

“Instead of seeking an exemption from conservation measures [4], the Philippine government and the fishing industry must instead work together with other parties in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and find effective ways to deal with problem of juvenile by-catch and declining tuna stocks, such as progressively increasing the FAD ban period until a there is a full ban on the use of FADs in purse seine fishing in the near future.” said Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines. “It’s time that we make these changes to save our fishing industry and restore the country’s top status in the international tuna arena.”

Notes to the editor:

  2. Ramiscal, R.V. et al. 2014. Group seine operations of Philippine flagged vessels in High Seas Pocket 1.
  3. Scott, GP Lopez, J. 2014.The use of FAD in tuna fisheries. IP/B/PECH/IC/2013-123. January 2014. Directorate General for Internal Policies. Policy Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies. Fisheries.
  4. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) implements a 4-month FAD ban for all purse seine operations in the WCPO convention area in an attempt to reduce the by-catch on baby bigeye and yellowfin tuna.  Since 2010, almost all the member-countries have agreed to stop purse seine fishing in two of the Pacific high seas pockets, except for the Philippines. The country has consistently lobbied for an exemption since 2012, and was able to secure a three-year exemption at the WCPFC meeting held in Australia in 2013.

Briefing Papers

  • Greenpeace:  
  • WWF:

For more information, please contact:

  • Raul Gonzales, Spokespersor, Alliance of Tuna Handliners, Mobile: 0917 943 1451
  • Dinna Umengan, NGO Representative, NFARMC, Mobile: 09189120515
  • Dr. Jose Ingles, Policy Officer, WWF Coral Triangle Program, Mobile: +639178436219
  • Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace Philippines, Mobile: +63917-5363754