Melvin Samson on Tuna catch documentation in the Philippines

The internship that I conducted at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines was part of their Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) that focuses on the handline fishery on Yellowfin Tuna in the Philippines.

Fishermen and fish buyers in the coastal communities should have an equitable share of the market benefits.

The project, officially named the Partnership Programme towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST), promotes the use of sustainable fishing practices and aims at the production of top-quality, fully traceable tuna. Fishermen and fish buyers in the coastal communities should have an equitable share of the market benefits, ánd the Yellowfin tuna handline fishery wants to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

To reach all this, WWF-Philippines and WWF-Germany are working together in a public-private partnership with Coop/Bell Seafood , Switzerland, and Seafresh Urk The Netherlands. The PPTST project focuses on the artisanal tuna handline fishery as they are thought to be more selective than the industrial-type tuna longline fisheries. The handline fishers produce in fact the high-priced class A or sashimi­-grade Yellowfin tuna destined for the international market.

One of the main issues concerning the transformation of the handline Yellowfin tuna fishery is the lack of a robust and reliable system to monitor and control the fishery. This has resulted in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices, otherwise known as IUU fishing practices. To address IUU fishing, WWF and the Philippine government are working on an improved Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS). The CDS is a registration system to monitor the handline fishery and to track and trace Yellowfin tuna products that are sourced from this fishery. Furthermore, the CDS can be used as a foundation of a traceability system that identifies legally and sustainably-caught Yellowfin tuna.

Landing site of artisanal fishing vessels. The bycatch will be divided over the plastic barrels which are filled with ice.
Landing site of artisanal fishing vessels. The bycatch will be divided over the plastic barrels which are filled with ice.

The scope of my work during my internship was to develop a paper format of the Catch Documentation Scheme for Yellowfin tuna caught by artisanal handline fishers and to facilitate the transformation of the paper format into a digital format. Six municipalities in the Province of Occidental Mindoro were involved in the project. I was based at the field office of WWF-Philippines in Mamburao, the tuna capital of the province and the last stopover before the tuna are transported to the processing plants in Manila.

I developed two CDS forms which record the landings of adult Yellowfin tuna and the bycatch associated with this species. The forms are used to verify and approve the landings and the shipment of adult Yellowfin tuna from the fish buyer to the processing plant of the seafood exporting company. Much of my work was on identifying the shortcomings of the monitoring process of catch landings and the gaps in functional performance of the catch documentation procedure. To find out, it proved to be very important to consult fishermen, fish buyers and local government officials. The advice of all these stakeholders was essential for the development of CDS forms that are more resistant to seafood fraud. The CDS system that was developed at the project site will eventually be implemented by the Philippine government throughout the entire country. To assist in that  I created a protocol that guides the use of the CDS system. In the future, the traditional paper forms of the Catch Documentation Scheme will be replaced by an electronic CDS system based on a Web Portal. This will provide a central, secure database for storing the data generated by the handline Yellowfin tuna CDS that can be accessed easily by authorized users.

The internship at WWF-Philippines gave me the opportunity to discover, learn, and experience many aspects of the fishing industry, and it has served as a capstone to my fisheries education. The Filipino’s are highly motivated to convert the tuna handline fisheries into a sustainable sector: I enjoyed working with these friendly people that treated me like family. I will always remember the beautiful nature reserves and beaches, the vibrant fishing communities and the sight of the large tuna being carried by the fishermen from the boat to the dock. Some tuna were even larger than myself!

Copyright: all photos by Melvin Samson.

Main figure on top: Unloading an adult Yellowfin tuna from a traditional fishing vessel, a banca, at the fishing port in Mamburao.