By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bona Buendia and Himala dela Cuesta
MANILA, Philippines — The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday asked the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives to investigate the growing phenomenon of ocean grabbing by foreign industrial fishing fleets in the country.
In a press statement, Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France appealed to Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte to conduct a joint or separate congressional inquiry on allegations that long-distance, large-scale trawls of other countries have been invading the country's territorial waters to fish local tuna and other high value fishery resources.
"The Senate President and the Speaker of the House are constitutionally bound to undertake an investigation of this phenomenon know as plunder of the sea or ocean grabbing by large-scale fishing fleets operated by offshore fishing giants," the Pamalakaya official said.
France lamented that President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and other government officials are ignoring the devastating impact of foreign industrial fishing fleets invasion of Philippine waters to local production, food security and environmental concerns ranged against plunder in the seas.
He said the international community are talking about the clear and present danger posed by invasion of industrial fishing fleets on the fisherfolk livelihood, food sovereignty and environmental concerns of poor and underdeveloped nations. "It is no other than the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food- Mr. Olivier de Schutter who delivered a sharp criticism on resource plunder of the seas but Malacanang just played it by ear.
But Mr. Aquino is missing in action. We hope the Senate President and the Speaker of the House won't miss the action and fail the Filipino public," added France. France noted that previous administrations and including the present Aquino administration have tolerated ocean grabbing activities of industrial fishing fleets of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in the country's ocean waters.
Last week, de Schutter warned governments that small fishermen, local fishing communities and sustainable fishing are threatened by ocean grabbing or long-distance, industrial-scale trawling. According to Pamalakaya the ocean grabbing and invasion of Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean industrial fishing fleets in the waters of Aurora province, which are regularly monitored by small fishermen.
It said, Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean industrial fleets are seen catching first rate tuna off the waters of Aurora, which is part of Asia Pacific Ocean. According to reports reaching the headquarters of Pamalakaya in Manila, huge industrial fishing fleets owned by Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean tuna operators are periodically seen from January to July every year.
In 2008 fishermen reported seeing long-line fishing gears being used in the hauling of tuna, blue marlin and other high value fish species. The Pamalakaya fisherfolk alliance maintaned small fishermen told his group that foreign fishing vessels even entered in the 15-kilometer municipal fishing waters from the shoreline.
Pamalakaya said Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese fishing vessels in Baler Bay in Aurora province between January to July every year to fish for tuna and such claim is confirmed by the Philippine Coast Guard. The group also noted that Senator Edgardo Angara in 2008 revealed that there were eight foreign fishing vessels ,some with canneries were seen almost daily during the months from January to July.
The senator even asked the Philippine Coast Guard to establish a station in Northern Aurora and assign patrol boats to protect the province's waters from foreign poachers.
Pamalakaya said a 3,000-ton tuna factory ship, accompanied by support fishing fleets, can catch as much as 150 metric tons of tuna on a 24-hour operation basis. By industry standard, a single factory ship could harvest 50,000 metric tons of tuna per year.
Pamalakaya noted that if there are eight Japanese tuna fishing vessels that regularly poach in the waters of Aurora province daily from January to July that means a total haul of 27,000 tons of tuna per factory ship during the period or 216,000 metric tons of tuna for all eight fishing vessels.
According to Pamalakaya’s computation, the owners of the eight fishing vessels could have earned as much as US$1.274 billion or US$ 160 million per fishing vessel in just six months from tuna poaching in Aurora and other tuna-rich waters of the Philippine territory.
Japan is known to consume 630,000 tons of tuna per year or 11 pounds of tuna per person. With the current shrinking catch in Japan seas and in the Philippines as its’ one of the major sources of tuna in Southeast Asia, particularly the country’s fishing areas with confirmed rich tuna deposits like the Moro Gulf and Celebes Sea in Mindanao, the Northern Aurora waters and other tuna potential areas across the Philippine archipelago.
Japan was once a leading tuna producer in Asia and in the world, but was overtaken by Taiwan in recent years. The other tuna producers are the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and China. Japan is now reviving its interest in tuna, because of the scarcity of supply and high demand for tuna which is equivalent to lucrative business and promise of huge return on Japanese investments.
With the increase in the supply of tuna produced by Japanese factory ships and their shipment to Japan and other countries, the local tuna producers and small tuna fishermen would be at their mercy by way of depressed prices, or worst when tuna stocks in Philippine EEZ are depleted it could lead to supply constraints and closure of local tuna producers’ of livelihood of 180,000 tuna fishermen and fish workers, both leaders claimed.
Pamalakaya said the situation is very, very alarming. The Philippine waters which is part of the country’s national territory has become an open city for foreign fishing plunderers led by Japanese tuna fishing interests yet the Japanese government is not making any decisive action to stop this “gang rape" of Philippine tuna stocks" by Japanese tuna factory ships.
The militant group said ocean grabbing in the country may be prevalent too in other ocean waters which are part of country's EEZ. Pamalakaya said ocean grabbing and plunder of the seas by industrial fleets and large-scale trawls are sporadic in the waters of Palawan and other areas of the highly contested West Philippine Sea, Moro Gulf and Celebes Sea.
Pamalakaya said there are 3.23 million vessels operate in marine waters and the remaining 1.13 million vessels conduct fishing activities in inland waters. It said it depicts a global situation of unbridled exploitation of marine and inland resources both on oceans and onshore waters like tuna fishing undertaken by Japanese, South Korean and Taiwanese fishing fleets off the waters of Aurora.
The group said Asia has the largest fleet with a total number of 3.18 million or 73 percent of the world’s total, followed by Africa with 11 percent, Latin America and the Carribean with 8 percent, North America with 3 percent and Europe with 3 percent.
Pamalakaya said ocean grabbing forced global fish production to reach 150.4 million tonnes in 2011 with marine capture contributing 90.4 million tonnes courtesy of coercive and destructive fishing efforts in oceans and onshore waters.
“These investments fueled by transnational and state subsidies to fishing giants occupying major fishing oceans and waters all over the country led to grandslam exploitation of marine resources to the detriment of the marginalzed fisherfolk and the global public in general. And the World Bank is a major culprit here as instrument of WTO,” the group maintained.
According to UN FAO 2010 report published this year, in terms of value, 67 percent of the fishery exports of underdeveloped fishing nations were served in silver platter to developed nations, of which, 54 percent were directed to US, Japan and the European Union.