THE fishing industry is projecting sardine shortages, with catches currently a fraction of their previous levels due to the changing climate.

“There is an anticipated shortage. We’re not saying there’s a shortage now but it’s going to that direction,” Francisco J. Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines, said in an online forum.

“The fishing boats only catch from 20-40% now compared to previous years. What we’re saying is that migratory movements of epipelagic fish are (changing) with climate change… they’re finding safer areas to survive,” he added.

Association of Fresh Fish Traders of the Philippines President Roderic C. Santos said that the current habagat (southwest monsoon) is also affecting the movement of fish.

Epipelagic fish are “not highly migratory like tuna” and live in shallow coastal waters, he said.

“Now that it’s habagat, the plankton will be brought (away) by the wind, so all small epipelagic fish will go there because the food is there,” he added.

Roberto Ballon, representing a Zamboanga fisherfolk association, said that municipal fishermen can supply canneries if they are provided upgraded boats and post-harvest facilities.

“We would need logistics support and facilities both in the production and harvest stages,” he said.

Mr. Buencamino recommended allowing commercial fishing operations a harvest area of 10.1 kilometers from shore and outward, which are classified as municipal waters.

“LGUs should allow us to fish near the shore where there are more fish. We will make sure that it will does affect municipal fishermen. We need to fish closer to build up our inventory before Dec. 1. There will be a shortage if the issue is not addressed,” he said.

There is a scheduled ban on commercial fishing between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28. Commercial fishing boats are also confined to fishing 15 kilometers from shore and beyond.

Food advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan convenor Asis G. Perez said that the Philippines is one of the biggest producers of canned sardines.

“The canned sardine industry yielded an average volume of 355,000 MT a year, generating an average annual value of P10.45 billion over the last five years. Sardine production is largely situated in the Zamboanga Peninsula, which accounts for up to 60% of total production. Other sardine-producing areas are Palawan, Bicol, the Visayan Sea, Samar, Iloilo, Cebu, and Masbate,” he said.

“The Philippines is rich in sardines. We have six major species of sardines in our territorial waters. Sardines are vital sources of healthy and affordable protein. Over 70% of Filipinos eat seafood, especially sardines, at least five times per month.  It is not only part of our everyday meal, but is also integral to our culture. Any claims of shortage should be resolved with tangible plans and action, because the effects are massive,” he added. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson