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Sustaining the fishing culture of the Philippines

Filipino fishermen hauling their fishing net to shore.
MSC Asia-Pacific director Kelvin Ng talks about fishing culture and issues surrounding sustainable fishing in the Philippines.
Kelvin Ng on June 27, 2014 - 3:24 pm in Developing World, Improving fisheries, Ocean health, Sustainable seafood
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While preparing for the Responsible Business Forum in Philippines, I began reading up on the rich history of Filipino culture. What particularly caught my attention, were the mythical stories about the “Serinas” and “Siyokoy.” These characters are the equivalent of mermaids and mermen in Filipino culture and are known as the “bantay tubig” or Guardians of Water.

As I read about these guardians, I started to reflect about how our work at the MSC relates to these mythical figures. We set the standards for sustainable fishing and educate people through our programs about responsible seafood choices and the importance of good fishing practices. We do all of this so that we can see the oceans teeming with life and our seafood supplies safeguarded.

This brought me on to thinking about what we can do in the Philippines and the surrounding region to achieve this vision and continue the work of the ocean guardians.

Fishing as a way of life in the Philippines

The Philippines has always been blessed with rich fish resources due to its location. It is situated in the middle of the coral triangle, which is well known for its marine biodiversity and rich production of seafood. With one of the longest coastlines in the world, much of the Filipino population lives along the coast in order take advantage of these resources for both nutrition and livelihoods. The number of people working in the Filipino fisheries sector is estimated at around 1 million. The business of fishing is central to the economy and culture of the islands.

Fish as a source of nutrition in the Philippines

For the average Filipino, no meal is complete without fish. Fish and seafood are main sources of nutrition and this has always been reflected in the Filipino culinary culture. Filipino cuisines such as the paellas, adobo, sinigang and tapa, all have seafood as main ingredients.

Something that highlights the importance of seafood to the Philippines is that fact that it annually imports around 300,000 tonnes of seafood. This is far higher than the total of its exports, which amount to only around 180,000 tonnes.

Filipino woman shops for dried fish at night market.

Shopping for dried fish at Filipino night market.

Getting Creative to solve the sustainability issue

Of course, this strong domestic demand and high production are putting a stress on the fish stocks in the waters surrounding the Philippines. Sustainability is an growing concern for Filipino fisheries which are experiencing declining fish catch, size and species composition around the country.

With the domestic demand for fish greater than exports, the situation challenges our market tools in resolving the sustainability issue. The MSC has to be creative in coming up solutions to address the issues in the Philippines.

Drawing from our experiences working with developing world, we have developed Fisheries Improvement Programs and a set of benchmarking and tracking tools to help developing countries, like the Philippines, to ensure that their fish stocks can last us for the long run. We work very closely with smaller scale fisheries in the region to encourage, educate and to equip them with the knowledge of sustainable fishing practices.

What more can we do?

We are not in working in isolation when it comes to sustainable fishing and safeguarding our seafood supplies. Our current Developing World Program and market tools alone will not address the issue of sustainable seafood supplies. Therefore, I am hoping for more governmental intervention and philanthropic individuals and corporations to step forward, to pull together resources, so as to ensure that we can continue to enjoy our favourite seafood for a long time to come.

Kelvin will be speaking at this year’s Responsible Business Forum on Food and Agriculture, which will be held in partnership with WWF Philippines, 14 & 15 July, 2014, at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati, Manila. The forum will explore innovative and collaborative approaches to improving agricultural productivity, and sustainability in key commodoties, including the fisheries sector.

Kelvin Ng

Kelvin is the MSC's Asia-Pacific regional director. He is based in Singapore.

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