Filipino small-scale tuna fishers eligible for prestigious international ecolabel

In file photo: A fisher carries a tuna over his shoulder to the shoreline. Markets across the world source their seafood from the fisheries of the Philippines, which now suffer from overfishing. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

The municipal fisher organization Philippine Tuna Handline Partnership (PTHP) officially began its journey towards earning the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Ecolabel on the 3rd of October, 2020, with its Announcement Comment Draft Report (ACDR) uploaded to the MSC website.

The PTHP works specifically within the Philippine Small-scale Yellowfin Tuna Handline Fishery. Members of the PTHP deal exclusively in Yellowfin Tuna, or Thunnus albacares, which is among the Philippines’ main fishery exports.

The MSC Ecolabel is widely recognized as being among the strictest marine ecolabels in circulation. The presence of the MSC ecolabel on fishery products is an assurance that it was sourced and harvested sustainably.

Due to the strict guidelines of the MSC, as well as the high costs and capital requirements that go into both the evaluation process and in maintaining the label’s strict requirements, only mostly industrial and commercial fishing and processing companies have been able to obtain the MSC ecolabel so far. The PTHP organization would be the first small-scale fisher operation in the Philippines to obtain the MSC ecolabel, should they pass the evaluation process.

Small scale handline fishing is seen as a sustainable solution to existing overfishing problems. The gear used in small scale handline fishing is highly selective compared to other fishing gears, which makes them more environmentally friendly in comparison.

The milestone comes after almost a decade of support from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines’ Partnership Program Towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST) in helping the PTHP meet the stringent requirements of the prestigious ecolabel. 

The project has been spearheaded by WWF-Philippines, together with WWF national offices in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Together with the WWF network in this effort is New England Seafood, Inc., Waitrose Ltd., Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer, Bell Seafood, Swiss Coop and Seafresh, who have supported the PTHP and other handline fishers across the globe since 2014. WWF-Germany, together with Swiss Coop, Bell Seafood and Seafresh, has funded the effort since 2011. Public sector bodies such as the Development Bank of Germany (DEG), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and LGUs in Mindoro Strait and Lagonoy Gulf also lent their support to the program.

The PTHP’s bid for MSC certification is a direct result of an effective multi-stakeholder partnership between the public and private sector and civil society, both local and international. The milestone is representative of many stakeholders coming together to empower small-scale fishers through the PTHP.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our small-scale fishers. In an industry that is dominated by big commercial interests our fishers are making  stand for themselves by telling the world that there is, indeed, space for small-scale, sustainably sourced seafood,” said WWF-Philippines Project Manager Joann Binondo. Binondo has worked closely with the fishers of the PTHP since 2011. Through WWF-Philippines, she has trained them as sustainable fishers, ready to meet the guidelines of the MSC.

Small scale tuna fishers will have access to high-end export markets across the world as well as better returns on their fishery products through the MSC, further explains Binondo. Trends in sustainability in developed markets have put a premium on sustainably sourced seafood. 

The Philippine Small-scale Yellowfin Tuna Handline Fishery earning MSC status would also serve as a business case for sustainably-sourced, small scale seafood.

“This isn’t just about the ecolabel. This is about our fishers choosing sustainability, something that they did of their own accord. That is part of the message we want people to see – that our fishers are capable, and their seafood is the best,” added Binondo.

WWF-Philippines will now be handing the reins of the certification process entirely to the PTHP for the MSC full assessment process. The MSC, among other fishery stakeholders, will be assessing the organization based on its ability to meet the requirements established by the MSC. The WWF network will play a supporting role as an MSC key stakeholder.


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