Filipino small-scale fishers and tuna processor-exporters brought home a big win recently when they were certified under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Organized in 2019, the Philippine Tuna Handline Partnership (PTHP) is a group of small-scale fishers and exporters that is operating in Mindoro Strait and Lagonoy Gulf. The full MSC assessment process started in March of 2020.

MSC certification is the latest development in a decades-long Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) being run with handline tuna fishers in Mindoro Strait and Lagonoy Gulf. The goal of the FIP is to improve the environmental sustainability of fisheries.

“This process has created unity among everyone—among exporters, fishers, local governments, everyone. We’ve realized that it’s not about us, but about what we do here in the fisheries, our livelihood, what we do with others and what we can achieve together,” Sam C. Garcia, chairman of the Philippine Association of Tuna Processors Inc., said in a news statement.

To meet the MSC standard, a fisher must comply to three principles to be considered sustainable.

First, fishing activities should allow fish populations to remain productive and healthy; second, harm to habitats and endangered species should be minimized to ensure the health of the ecosystem; and third, the fishery must be managed well, with laws and plans that enable the sustainability of the fishery.

Being a useful global standard, the MSC measures the environmental performance of wild-caught fisheries like Mindoro Strait and Lagonoy Gulf.

The PTHP, the first group in the Philippines to receive a MSC certification, represents the country’s tuna processors.

It consists of both small-scale tuna fishers and processors.

Although the PTHP has been certified by the MSC, the group still needs to meet a number of conditions for them to keep their certification. Conditions are requirements outlined by the MSC, and serve as a good guide in helping fisheries work towards sustainability.

For the PTHP, closing these conditions and meeting the MSC standard is a step in the right direction for the future of their fisheries.

The tuna fisheries under the PTHP need stronger habitat management strategies, policies to identify and protect endangered species, and effective monitoring and enforcement of fishery laws.

Although tuna management plans have been drafted, local government units still need to recognize them and adopt them on a municipal level for them to be effective.

Further, measures also need to be adopted to protect tuna fisheries throughout the region. The Philippines belongs to the Western Central Pacific region, which the MSC has flagged for not having sufficient measures in place to protect local fisheries.

The MSC has warned that failure to implement the region-wide harvest control rules and strategies by December 2022, tuna fisheries in the Western Central Pacific could lose their MSC certification.

“For around a decade of fisheries work we fishers have grown together in order to face whatever obstacle that has come our way. With the help of government agencies and the partners who have stood alongside us, practices that once harmed the environment and our local communities have left our fisheries little by little over the many years,” said IFARMC of Mindoro Strait Chairman Bernard A. Mayo Sr., a fisher leader who has been with the program since its inception in 2011.

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