Exports of Philippine fish products expanding as aquaculture increases output

One of the greatest benefits derived from the Philippines’ widely dispersed archipelagic landmass of more than 7000 islands spread across 2.2m sq km of the Pacific Ocean is the abundance of sea life teeming beneath the surface of territorial waters. Given the seafaring nature, heavy reliance on seafood as a local dietary staple and maritime tradition of many Filipino people, the commercialisation of the fisheries present off the Philippines’ 36,289 km of coastline seems all but preordained. In all, the fisheries sector produced P244.55bn ($5.5bn) worth of seafood in 2013, up from P232.61bn ($5.2bn) the previous year and roughly double the output of P112bn ($2.5bn) a decade ago, according to Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data. Exports of both fresh and processed products expanded dramatically from 2012 to 2013 on the strength of increased shipments of seaweed and fresh or preserved fish to the US, Japan and South Korea. Free-on-board seafood shipments hit $1.16bn in 2013, up from $810.8m in 2012 and nearly triple the $427.4m exported in 2003.

While many of the more easily accessible fishing grounds containing more profitable commercial catches have declined in yield and quality over the past few decades due to heavy fishing, the country still boasts numerous productive fisheries. Fishing is broken down into three modes of production for statistical and administrative purposes: commercial fisheries, municipal fisheries and aquaculture.

AQUACULTURE: Aquaculture is the most productive of the three segments and is enjoying strong growth from production in ponds, pens, cages or on substrates such as stakes, ropes, lines, nets, shells or other surfaces. “Aquaculture represents a significant potential for the sector, with fish cage farming expected to grow dramatically in the coming 10 years, especially targeting high-value fish like milkfish,” Phillip L Ong, the president of Santeh Feeds Corporation, told OBG.

Aquaculture production has increased from under 1m tonnes in 1998 to 2.37m tonnes in 2013, valued at an all-time high of P93.73bn ($2.1bn) according to PSA. The most valuable aquaculture species are milkfish, with more than P20bn ($450m) produced from brackish water fish ponds alone, along with a significant and rapidly growing contribution from marine and brackish water cages, at P9.7bn ($218.3m), and smaller contributions from freshwater cages and fish pens and marine and brackish water fish pens. In 2013 fish farmers yielded more than 400,000 tonnes of milkfish, which is widely consumed domestically. Other significant contributors include tiger prawns raised in brackish water fish ponds, at P19.72bn ($443.7m) in 2013, tilapia from freshwater ponds and cages (P10.38bn, $233.6m) and seaweed (P9.9bn, $222.8m).

COMMERCIAL: Commercial fisheries, which mostly focus on large pelagic species like tuna, billfish, marlin and sailfish, were the largest contributor to the sector in the 1970s, but have since declined in relative value, with the industry producing P69.92bn ($1.6bn) worth of fish in 2013, ranking it third behind the municipal and aquaculture segments. Tuna was the largest and most profitable segment in the 1980s as the country became the leading producer of the fish in South-east Asia, due in large part to the introduction of fish aggregating devices. However, the effectiveness and efficiency of the devices eventually led to declining domestic tuna schools, prompting local vessels to expand their operations into international waters. In spite of the changes in species of tuna targeted, overall catches continue to climb mainly due to increased production of skipjack tuna, which rose from 83,385 tonnes in 2002 to a peak of 201,262 in 2009 before tailing off to 171,261in 2013. Local production continues to fall, with frigate tuna and eastern little tuna tailing off from 100,958 and 26,811 tonnes in 2002 to 73,647 and 22,179 tonnes by 2013. Other, less plentiful species, such as bigeye and yellowfin, have also declined of late.

MUNICIPAL: Municipal fisheries – in which the fishing is carried out in inland and coastal areas with or without the use of a fishing boat – totalled 1.26m tonnes in 2013 and were worth a total of P80.9bn ($1.8bn).

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