Challenges and opportunities for a sustainable seafood movement in the Philippines

Photo by DoDo PHANTHAMALY from Pexels.

By Vina Medenilla


About 70 percent of Philippine fishing grounds are currently overfished. If this continues, future generations won’t have fish to eat. Limiting our catch is one way to preserve marine biodiversity and to save the livelihood of almost two million Filipino fisherfolk. 


If everyone collects just enough fish for themselves, we allow the remaining fishes in the sea to reproduce. We consistently harvest fish faster than they can multiply. Because of this, we don’t allow fishes to grow and this will eventually keep the seas empty. This is why implementing fishing limitations and strictly monitoring fishing activities is critical. 50 percent of the Filipino’s protein diet comes from fish and with the proper use of our resources, we will be able to fight hunger and feed future generations. 


Prevent, deterring, and eliminating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing

One of the biggest threats to the seafood industry, aside from overfishing, is Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated fishing that comes from unlawful activities performed by small-scale to large commercial fishers. 


As presented during the online plenary event on Responsible Seafood Sourcing in the Philippines, illegal fishing refers to the use of prohibited gears, explosives, and poisons, the collection of young fishes, and the collection of any fish outside the assigned fishing grounds. Unreported fishing pertains to activities that are not reported or have been misreported. Unregulated fishing involves fishing performed without registration and license or if registration and licensing are illegal, like using a single registration and licensing for multiple vessels or misclassification of vessel types. 


In the Philippines alone, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said that there’s an estimated P68.5 billion annual losses due to IUU fishing. IUU fishing is also said to be one of the top reasons that hinder the development of fishery resources globally. Through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Fish Right Program, in partnership with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), it aims to eliminate the factors that contribute to this issue by setting a standard or policies and by increasing public awareness on sustainable practices to protect marine biodiversity in the Philippine seas and fisheries. 


Challenges in Responsible Seafood Sourcing in emerging markets


Responsible Seafood Sourcing (RSS) refers to principles and rules in purchasing, harvesting, and processing seafood and seafood products responsibly.


Read more about RSS here.


Fisheries governance, catch documentation, supply chains transparency, and market and consumers’ access to information remain to be the industry challenges that are yet to be improved and strengthened. According to Josette Emlen Genio, Sustainable Markets Specialist of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), these challenges lead to IUU fishing, food safety and quality issues, seafood fraud (mislabeling, product substitutions, and species misidentification), unequal value distribution, and lack of market recognition. In the previous workshops held by USAID and SFP, they have gathered ideas from stakeholder groups and came up with four lines of action to address these challenges:


Increasing access to information. Educate participants in the supply chain and the public about RSS and seafood sustainability and support this with proof of claim for responsibly-sourced seafood. 


Assurance of supply. Ensure a consistent and reliable supply of responsibly-sourced seafood by working hand in hand with producers and determine the minimum size limit for commonly-traded species to foster sustainability. 


Regulatory Mechanisms. Genio explained that we can focus on the implementation of the regulations to prevent IUU fishing and intensify the campaign on fisher vessel registration and licensing as well as the placement of vessel monitoring systems. She added that the BFAR also came up with programs to prevent IUU fishing like Malinis at Masaganang Karagatan  “MMK” Program that will reward the country’s outstanding coastal community and provide them with fisheries livelihood projects. Providing movement documents as proof of product origin is another way to address the issue on IUU fishing.


Supply chain management. Educating and engaging suppliers on seafood sustainability is also vital for them to comply with existing regulations particularly for managed species like blue swimming crab, yellowfin tuna, and sardines. Lastly, follow sourcing policies to improve procurement practices. 


With the increasing demand for sustainable products, responsibly-sourced seafood has the potential to be a primary option for future consumers. 


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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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