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Filipino Fishermen Alarmed As Past 2 Month's Tuna Hauls 'Worst In The Past 20 Years'

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MINDANAO, The Philippines -- Tuna canneries in Mindanao have cut production because of a global drop in the catch of the fish, with local fishermen saying that the yield in July and August alone was the worst in the past 20 years.

"There was a crisis for two months,'' said Domingo Alape, a marketing executive of Frabelle Fishing which owns a tuna fleet in General Santos City. ''July and August was really, really very bad. Catch maybe for us is around 40 to 45 percent less."

Alape, who said that the catch was the worst he had seen in his 20 years in the business, said other tuna fishers are experiencing the same problem suffered by fishermen all over the world.

Ocean Canning Corp., one of the six tuna canneries in General Santos, have cut two eight-hour shifts and are now down to only one shift, affecting the hundreds of wage earners, according to a news report by the Voice of America. Industry experts say the tuna industry generates about 120,000 jobs in Mindanao.

The cannery normally operates 24 hours a day, said plant manager Mariano Fernandez, but it is now down to eight hours for the first time in its 10-year history, because fishing boats are bringing back fewer fish.

Plant manager Mariano Fernandez says he is down to as few as 600 workers a day, from about 1,500 in the past few months. Fernandez, who also heads the local cannery association, says all six canneries in General Santos are operating under similar conditions.

"One purse-seiner, a big vessel, can load 2,000 metric tons of tuna. They stay [at sea] for several months and they come home with 300 tons only. So this is unusual," Fernandez said.

Even the Philippines Tuna Canning Association cannot explain the reason for the drop in the tuna catch.

"Nobody can safely say why it is so," said association president Paul Candelaria. "Some say it is because of the migrating pattern, or the feeding pattern after the [2004] tsunami. Some would say this year it is because of the global warming, some would tell you that it is because of over-fishing."

Environmentalists have warned that tuna could face extinction if current fishing rates continue. A meeting in Japan in January approved the first international plan to save tuna from over-fishing.

Last year, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas decided to gradually reduce the catch of bluefin.

During their annual convention in General Santos last week, tuna industry leaders urged wide-ranging talks on measures to mitigate the tuna catch problem.

Philip Ong of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry proposed government investments in breeding tuna.

The Sulu Sea and Indonesian waters have been the traditional fishing grounds of fishermen, especially tuna catchers, but Marfin Tan, president of the Socksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc., said fishermen may have to travel farther to catch the fish.

"As the global warming affects the current of the ocean, tuna, which is migratory in nature, will look for temperature suitable and safe for them, and it has become difficult for our fishers to catch them," Tan said, adding that the P23-billion industry has reason to be alarmed.

In Davao City, the number of foreign fishing vessels that docked at the Davao City Fish Port Complex in Toril district dropped 18.64 percent in 2007 compared to 2006, according to facility manager Mario Malinao.

He said that from January to August 2006, foreign port calls at the port reached 599 but during the same period this year, the figure dropped to 499.

He said the volume of tuna unloaded at the fish port also went down by 3 percent to 3,202 metric tons from last year's 3,303 metric tons.

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