By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter

FISHERFOLK said they are working towards a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification following initiatives being pursued by the tuna industry to ensure that its operations adhere to international best practices.

Kami ngayon is nasa proseso pa lang (We’re still in the process of getting the certification),” Suzette B. Villano, an official of the Sagnay Tuna Fishers Association in Sagnay, Camarines Sur, said.

The Philippines Tuna Handline Partnership (PTHP) was granted a 5-year certification in October 2021. PTHP is composed of the Gulf of Lagonoy Tuna Fishers Federation, Inc., the Occidental Mindoro Federation of Tuna Fishers Association, and the Philippine Association of Tuna Processors, Inc.

What they are all shooting for is the blue MSC label applied to wild fish or seafood from fisheries that meet international norms for sustainable fishing. The label signals to consumers the fish they purchase comes from a sustainable source.   

Ms. Villano told BusinessWorld via Zoom that one of the certification requirements is the use of handlining, a method that involves a handheld line with one or more baited hooks attached to the end.   

The requirements for fisherfolk participating in the initiative include registration with the Department of Agriculture and the licensing of their equipment. 

Marami pa kaming inaasikaso [We’re still working on the requirements],” added Ms. Villano. “Bawat huling isda, dapat naka-record (Each catch has to be recorded).”

Ms. Villano said the changes in fishing conditions, possibly the result of climate change, include Sagnay’s receding shoreline and the growing difficulty of finding fish.

Dati sa lugar namin, kahit hindi ka na pumunta sa malayo, may isda (You didn’t have to venture far to fish before),” she said. “Ngayon hinahanap na ang isda (Nowadays, you have to look for the fish).”

Handline fishing is sustainable, she said, because it does not negatively affect the ecosystem.

“Our partner small-scale fisherfolk are already able to export their products to the international market,” said Raisa D. Pandan, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines’s technical operation manager of Sustainable Tuna Partnership (STP) 2.

“WWF-Philippines works closely with the PTHP to ensure that fisherfolk are represented at the negotiating table with processors and exporters,” she said via Messenger.

The global conservation group facilitates the tuna fishery improvement project (FIP), a program that aims to establish sustainable fishing practices and improve the livelihoods of fisherfolk, such as Ms. Villano’s group and others in the PTHP.

The fisherfolk have decided to shoot for MSC certification on their own, with guidance from the WWF-Philippines, which runs the STP.

It took PTHP ten years to get its MSC certification, according to Joann P. Binondo, WWF-Philippines’ overall program manager for STP 2. “We started in 2011 with the Tuna FIP.”

“MSC is really difficult and expensive to obtain and maintain, especially for small-scale handline fisheries from a developing country,” Ms. Binondo said via Messenger.

“I salute the tuna fishers from Lagonoy and Mindoro (who) committed to continue over the years despite the stringent process,” she said.

The Lagonoy Gulf and Mindoro Strait fisherfolk MSC certification has “reignited the interest” of securing the certification among General Santos City’s tuna fishing industry, Ms. Pandan said.

In 2021, she added, the Fresh Frozen Seafood Association of the Philippines and the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. signed a partnership with the SARGEN Fish Port Tuna Handline Fishing Association, Inc. with the aim of establishing a Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) in General Santos.

“The FIP is a precursor to their goal to achieve an MSC certification, an undertaking we support and welcome,” she told BusinessWorld.

Ms. Pandan added that it’s “not only about how to make our fishers more competitive, but also how to ensure that they reap the benefits that they should rightly be receiving as producers of export commodities at the international scale.”

Tuna and tuna-like species account for 20% of the entire value of the world’s marine capture fisheries, per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Worldwide demand for sustainably sourced fish has been rising in recent years, including in the UK and US.

Ms. Villano, who estimates that it might take her group five more years to get MSC-certified, says they expect their catch to command higher prices at the conclusion of the process.

The current price of tuna, she said, is P280-P300 per kilo during the lean months of April to July.

Sana mabigyan pansin ’yung mga maliliit na mangingisda, para matanggal ang mindset na ang mga fisherfolk poorest among the poor (I hope small-scale fisherfolks get more attention, to eliminate the mindset that fisherfolk are among the poorest of the poor),” she added.