To sustain both the ocean and people
Policy interventions to improve the environmental sustainability of the fisheries trade need to be matched by a commitment to improve the conditions of the most marginalized players.
The trade in fishery products provides maritime countries like the Philippines with profound human welfare opportunities. In addition to generating more than P200 billion worth of economic activity annually, it makes significant contributions to the livelihoods and food security of millions of Filipinos. Yet, sustaining this vital trade faces immense challenges. Overfishing is rampant, leading to declining fish stocks and falling production levels. Fishers at the extractive ends of the trade obtain limited benefits, with little power to change their status.
How to improve the ways in which the fisheries trade is conducted—more profitably and more equitably—needs to be an urgent priority for Philippine policymakers.
Stakeholders from the government, civil society, academe, and private sector are implementing many interventions to improve the environmental sustainability of the fisheries trade. Fishery improvement projects and certification processes are being rolled out, connecting Philippine companies to overseas retailers and consumers who wish to purchase sustainably caught seafood. Such initiatives rely on better catch documentation and traceability, following the entire value chain from the harvesters to consumers. Amendments to the national Fisheries Code, driven by the requirements of export markets in Europe and the United States, aim to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Closed seasons, such as for the multibillion-peso sardine fishery in Zamboanga Peninsula, and other management tools such as stock enhancement, size limits, and marine protected areas all aim to ensure the biological basis for the fisheries trade into the future.
Local government units in particular are ultimately responsible for many of these activities, and in many cases will need to work together to manage transboundary marine resources.
Yet, such interventions need to be balanced by an explicit commitment to social and economic conditions in the fisheries trade. Fishers involved in the trade across the Philippines are “price-takers,” and poverty remains widespread in their communities. Appropriate policy interventions will also be required to improve the conditions of these most marginalized players.
“Value-adding” options can include better marketing and improved postharvest processing facilities and practices, which ultimately can lead to improved quality standards for products desired by consumers. Better drying facilities for producers of seaweed and other dried fishery products, for example, can dramatically increase the income gained. The challenge is to use such policy interventions to increase the value gained from the fisheries trade in ways that do not further pressure already strained natural resources.
More fundamentally, fishers in much of Southeast Asia face poor labor conditions and suffer from insecure land tenure; human rights abuses have been documented by Greenpeace. Fishers need to have more of a say over the conditions and policies that shape their lives. Unless people have greater control over policy interventions for the fisheries trade, such interventions run the danger of exacerbating the strong economic inequalities already present.
This was produced by Michael Fabinyi (Uni. Of Technology Sydney), Wolfram Dressler (Uni. of Melbourne), Michael Pido (Palawan State Uni.), Antonio Abamo (Visayas State Uni.), Jo Marie Acebes (Balyena.Org), Vince Aureflor Cinches (Greenpeace), David David (WWF), Amor Diaz (BFAR), Angel Encarnacion (BFAR), Maria Rosario Aynon Gonzales (PSU), Danilo Israel (Phil. Inst. of Development Studies), Maria Mangahas (UP Diliman), Mavic Matillano (WWF), Len Garces (USAID Oceans), Rina Maria Rosales (Ecofish), Alita Roxas (Mindanao State Uni.-Iligan), Chrisma Salao (WWF), Teresita Narvaez (WMSU), and Nerissa Salayo (Seafdec). The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the views of their institutions.
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