Special Report: Global Financial Crisis
By Jeoffrey Maitem, Liu Hua
GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- Global warming and the economic crisis are far from far-fetched stories. Tuna industry players have already felt the pinch of them in this southern Philippine city.
Renowned as the country's "Tuna Capital," General Santos provides thousands of tons of tuna fish every year for local and international markets.
Daily in this coastal city, around 280 tons of giant yellow-fin tunas are prepared and processed for distribution all over the world. In less than 24 hours after being unloaded by fishermen from their vessels docked in this city's world-class fish port, the fresh tuna will turn into pink sushi in finest foreign bistros thousands of kilometers away.
However, fishermen have recently found their catch decreasing due to global warming and oil price disturbances.
Marfin Tan, a tuna company owner engaged in the industry for two decades, said that his catch dropped significantly in recent years, adding that less tunas can be found within nearby waters.
Last year, the industry saw a slide of 22 percent in its production.
Three years ago, the Philippines' tuna production ranked the fourth in the world, reaching 500,000 tons, some 8 percent of the global total. By contrast, it came to only the seventh in 2008.
The Sulu Sea waters have been the traditional fishing area of fishermen, especially of tuna catchers, but these days they have to venture farther to catch the fish.
"Most of our fishermen catch their fish in the waters of Indonesia," said Miguel Lamberte, a port manager of the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority in General Santos.
A Filipino scientist, Noel Barut, who works as deputy executive director of Manila's Fisheries Research Development Institute, said the global warming is one of the major reasons why the Philippines' tuna stocks keep going down. According to him, there are indications of continuing migration of tuna species into cooler parts of the oceans.
As the global warming affects the current of the oceans, tuna, which is migratory in nature, will transfer to waters where the temperature more suitable for them, Barut said.
"If the climate change will continue, tuna will also continue to look for temperatures they like and it will be difficult for our part," he added.
Trying to find a solution, Filipino traders are planning to setup tuna-breeding facilities in the country.
"But it's a little bit expensive," said Tan, the tuna trader.
"Although we still have supply of tuna for our exports, time will come, maybe in the next 20 years, when we will experience shortage. So we must invest as soon as possible," said Philip Ong, fisheries committee chair of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The surge of oil prices last year was another reason leading to the loss of production.
"Our fishing industry is fuel intensive. Meaning if the cost of fuel is high, our fishermen's effort to catch fish will be lessened," Lamberte said.
"Our fishermen are spending about 3,850 to 9,600 U.S. dollars per trip in their oil expenses," he added.
Meanwhile, the ongoing financial crisis has also taken its toll on the tuna industry, with weaker demand from traditional tuna markets in the Unites States and European countries.
Reacting to that situation, Filipino tuna players have been shifting their marketing focus from the traditional markets to China, among others.
Tan told Xinhua that his company has been exporting their frozen and canned tuna to major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
"This is favorable to us since we have also clients there," Tan said.
With a population of 1.3 billion, China is likely to become a great market for the Philippines' tuna industry, he added.