By Patricia Mirasol 

The Philippine Tuna Handline Partnership (PTHP) is the first group of small-scale fishers and tuna processors in the Philippines to earn a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. The international certification was given on Oct. 19, or more than a year after the PTHP began the MSC assessment process in March 2020.  

The certification is the latest development of a WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature)-Philippines-led project with handline tuna fishers in the Mindoro Strait and Lagonoy Gulf. The Fishery Improvement Project (FIP), which has been running since 2011, is a multi-stakeholder program that aims to establish sustainable fishing practices and improve the livelihoods of fishermen. 

“They capacitated us,” said Atenogenes B. Reaso, a fisherman and chairman of the Gulf of Lagonoy Tuna Fishers Federation, Inc., at the Oct. 1 launch of a WWF coffee table book narrating the fishermen’s aforementioned 10-year journey. The FIPs helped their members understand what sustainability is, Mr. Reaso added. 

An MSC certification recognizes sustainable fishing practices. The blue MSC label is applied to wild fish or seafood from fisheries that have been independently assessed on its impacts to wild fish populations and the ecosystems they’re part of. It shows consumers that the fish they bought in the grocery comes from a sustainable source. 

“WWF helped us… enter the international market,” said Bernard A. Mayo, Sr., a fisherman and chairman of the Mindoro Strait Integrated Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (IFARMC). “We will use MSC to make fishing more sustainable and enable future generations to benefit from it,” he told the book launch audience in the vernacular.  

Under the FIP, fishermen register their boats and get a fishing license in return. The fishmen are trained on sustainable practices, including the use of selective handlines. Practices like this ensure sustainable fishing, as the handlines only catch mature yellowfin tuna and leave out the juvenile ones.  

Each fish caught is traceable from fishing boat to international market, guaranteeing the fishermen’s livelihoods.  

Bangkulis, or yellowfin tuna, are caught in the Philippines but are exported globally, said Gregg H. Yan, executive director of environmental nonprofit Best Alternatives, at the Oct. 1 virtual event. “The European Union (EU) is the largest importer,” he added.  

After the fish are unloaded from the boats, Mr. Yan said, they are brought to the casas, where they are gently prepared, chilled, packed, and sealed before being sent to international markets such as Japan, the Americas, and the EU.  

There are seven species of tuna worldwide. The yellowfin tuna (T. albacares), according to Britannica, is a commercially important specie that reaches a maximum weight of about 180 kg (397 pounds).  

The PTHP has to meet the following conditions to keep its MSC certification: stronger habitat management strategies, policies to identify and protect endangered species, and effective monitoring and enforcement of fishery laws. Local government units also need to recognize and adopt tuna management plans on a municipal level for these to be effective. 

A March 2021 article by BusinessWorld notes that 80 of the world’s largest canned tuna brands procure much of their tuna from the Pacific, which supplies more than half (or 60%) of the world’s tuna. The Western Central Pacific region, however, has been flagged by the MSC for not having sufficient measures in place to protect local fisheries.  

Should region-wide harvest control rules and strategies not be put in place by December 2022, tuna fisheries in the Western Central Pacific – including the Philippines – could lose their MSC certification.