The “curse of free trade”, according to economist Alejandro Lichauco, has virtually wiped out our agricultural sector from twenty-five percent of the economy in the 1980’s to a bare fifteen per cent today. One can only imagine how those “wiped out” are surviving. Lamentably, in this archipelago of more than seven thousand islands, fisher folk are also being wiped out by the same curse. The market-driven, free trade policies of a series of governments have, according to the KilusangMangingisda (KM), resulted in the dire neglect of fisheries and aquaculture management and the lack of support for municipal fishers. Notably, the latter make up ninety-five percent of the fisheries labor force and contribute at least a third of total fisheries production. Painfully, KM chairman Bonifacio Federizo observes that the present dispensation seems to perpetuate old habits as it equates development with private investments, market access and export-oriented production. The small producers are callously ignored even if, at the municipal level, they play a vita lrole in ensuring livelihood for coastal communities and food fish security for the entire country. Chronic problems like poor management, socio-environmental negligence and resource depletion remain unsolved.
The KM, a coalition of fourteen federations, disputes claims that extensive, commercial aquaculture is a sound and rational alternative to capture fishery. “In its present form,” says Mr.Federizo,” aquaculture in the country remains unregulated and saddled with unsustainable practices.”Insistently, he has pointed out that wanton conversion of mangroves to commercial fish ponds, have already wiped out two-thirds of the country’s natural nurseries and feeding grounds. The excessive accumulation of feeds and organic wastes in commercial fish cages continue to pollute once pristine lakes and near-shore marine waters, causing noxious and wasteful fish kills. Why aren’t their voices heard at high-level summits? Short of obliterating the “curse of free trade”, the Kilusang Mangingisda proposes the following remedies for the impending fish food shortage.
• The maximum sustainable fishing yield is 1.9 million metric tons a year; let us not exceed that.
• Commercial fisheries should be limited to waters of Exclusive Economic Zone since these are relatively unexploited.
• Standards for responsible aquaculture should be enforced to mitigate and/or prevent adverse socio-environmental impact on aquaculture production and coastal fishing communities.
• Post-harvest facilities like refrigeration, freezers and cold storage should be accessible to small fisher folk in order to minimize losses due to spoilage.
The KM affirms that there has been a food fish deficit since 2005 and that the country’s fisheries production cannot keep up with the demands of a rapidly- growing population. In 2005, the local demand for fish food was at 2.6 million metric tons; according to figures from the Comprehensive National Fishery Industry Development Plan (CNFIDP), an individual Filipino’s average yearly fish consumptionis 31.4 kilos, so multiply that by 135 millionFilipinos (population by 2025 based on a yearly growth rate of 2.36 percent) and you will have an idea of how many metric tons of fish we will need by 2025. Over-fishing has remained unchecked since the1970’s and by blindly relying on free trade and market forces, we have foolishly exhausted our resources and gone beyond maximum sustainable yields; the average fish catch has declined to only one sixth of what itwas in the 1950s. First the agricultural sector is accursed, now the fisheries industry is on the vergeof collapse. Let us heed the warning of small fisherfolk before it is too late.