Illegal fishing and the tuna industry


Duterte-Cayetano tandem

Duterte-Cayetano tandem

I would like to correct the misconception that perhaps the presidential tandem of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Alan Cayetno have when they visited General Santos City, a known mecca for tuna, presenting their platform of government before the province’s officials where, among other things, they vowed “to crack down on illegal fishing and promised to go after illegal fishermen in Mindanao to protect its tuna industry”.

Well, actually these are two separate and distinct concerns and they should be able to distinguish one from the other so they would sound credible and not trying to be authorities on the subject.

It does not mean to say that if they will go after illegal fishing or what we describe as destructive fishing practices, the tuna industry will also be protected.

There is no such thing as illegal fishing or destructive fishing when it comes to catching tuna for first and foremost tuna is a fast-swimming, migratory pelagic fish, thus, its sleek and streamlined body. Because of people’s appetite for its meat, tuna has become an important commercial fish and its number being carefully monitored by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) due to over-fishing, but not illegal fishing.

Illegal fishing or destructive fishing not only catches unwanted fish but what it does outrageously wrong is that it also destroys the habitat or marine environment where fish find food and shelter, even in the form of ancient corals.

The destructive fishing practices we have heard of and familiar about are the use of explosives, the use of poison and what is called bottom trawling.

Bottom trawling concept

Bottom trawling concept

Bottom trawling is an industrial method which uses enormous nets weighed down with heavy ballast which are dragged along the sea floor, raking up or crushing everything in their way from fish to new and old coral formations.

The extent of the damage of the sea floor depends on how big the trawler is and how better equipped it is. Clearly, the larger and more sophisticated the boat is, the more devastating the impact of illegal fishing techniques.

Many species, including those at risk of extinction, are accidentally caught and then thrown back into the sea, often already dead. These collateral losses, known as discards, can reach up to 80% or even 90% of the total catch.

Bottom trawling also churns up sediment (sometimes toxic), creating turbid water inhospitable to life. This type of fishing obliterates the natural environmental features where marine animals would normally live, rest and hide.

Tuna, on the other hand, takes a lull on their migration when they find some floating logs or purposely installed fish aggregating device called “payaw” in the middle of the sea, which gives artificial sanctuary to small fishes that attracts bigger fishes and later the much larger fishes like the tuna for what is known as a food chain reaction.

It used to be that fishermen moored their pump boats to the “payaws”, usually made of piled and tied bamboo poles, which together is weighted down to the seafloor for it to stay in place and fish tuna with hook and line.

There was then an abundance of tuna, but with the development of purse-seine nets that comes bigger and bigger depending on the size and sophistication of the purse-seine vessels, over-fishing of tuna is happening as enormous catches are being made in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

Some business people are in fact into tuna farming already to counter the over-fishing happening in the high seas.

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