By Henrylito D. Tacio If within five to ten years from now, you won’t see fish anymore in your plate or restaurant menus, don’t be surprised. Blame the current surging population for that. Currently, the Philippines is home to almost 90 million people. “About 62 percent of the population lives in the coastal zone,” says the Philippine Environment Monitor published by the World Bank. The Philippines has one of the highest population growth rates in the world with an average annual rate of increase of 2.75 percent during the last century. Estimates show that if the present rapid population growth and declining trend in fish production continue, only 10 kilograms of fish will be available per Filipino per year by 2010, as opposed to 28.5 kilograms per year in 2003. “Without any change in fish consumption and no active human population management program,” the World Bank report warns, “domestic demand for fish will reach 3.2 billion kilograms by 2020, given the projected population growth rate of the country.” If increased demand is met solely by marine capture fisheries, such increased pressure on the fisheries sector could lead to an eventual collapse of fisheries and the fishing industry, which employs more than one million people (about5 percent of the national labor force). “All fisheries are showing decline in total catch and per unit effort (total number of fish caught per unit of time) despite increasing effort,” the World Bank report notes. “Fish are harvested at a level 30 to 50 percent higher than the natural production capacity.” The Philippines is among the largest fish producers in the world, the World Bank report states. The commercial, municipal, and aquaculture fisheries account for 36, 30, and 24 percent of the total fisheries yield, respectively. Its annual total fisheries yield is estimated to be worth around US$70 to UD$110 billion (equivalent to about 2-4 percent of the country’s gross domestic production over the years). A new report from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) said that the total volume of fisheries production increased by 9.67 percent during the third quarter of 2007 over the same quarter in 2006. “All the sectors managed to outdo their third quarter production performance,” reports BAS, a line agency of the Department of Agriculture. “The commercial fisheries which served as the major source of growth exhibited a 10.35 percent increase.” Next gainer was the municipal fisheries, with output surging by 10.46 percent. Aquaculture production increased by 83.5 percent during the third quarter of 2007 compared to the same period in 2006. Even if the government can check the current population growth, there’s one problem that cannot be solved by the country alone: global warming. “We still have enough fish now but with global warming we may have problems in the next five to ten years unless we do something about it,” warns Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, the executive director of the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD). This has been confirmed by a recent report released by the United Nations. “At least three quarters of the globe’s key fishing grounds may become seriously impacted by changes in circulation as a result of the ocean’s natural pumping systems fading and falling,” the UN report suggests. Global warming refers to an increase in average global temperatures, which in turn cause climate change. “To completely understand why global warming happens, it is important to know that our atmosphere, which is made up of gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide as well as water vapor, has a profound influence on Earth’s surface temperature,” explains the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization based in Washington, DC.
Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane absorb heat, thus reducing the amount that escapes back to space. “As the atmosphere absorbs heat energy,” Worldwatch notes, “it warms the oceans and the surface of the Earth. This process is called the greenhouse effect. Without this effect, the Earth’s atmosphere would average about 10 degrees Centigrade colder, making it impossible to sustain life on Earth.
Worldwatch continues, “Rising levels of heat absorbing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase global temperatures [called global warming].”
UN report author Christian Nellemann said that more than 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs could die by 2050 because of bleaching caused by higher ocean surface temperatures, based on climate projections by international scientists. In the Philippines, an estimated 10-15 per cent of the total fisheries come from coral reefs. About 80-90 per cent of the income of small island communities come from fisheries. “Coral reef fish yields range from 20 to 25 metric tons per square kilometer per year for healthy reefs,” says Dr. Angel C. Alcala, former environment secretary. In the Philippines, only four to five percent of coral reefs are in excellent condition. “Nowhere else in the world are coral reefs abused as much as the reefs in the Philippines,” deplored marine scientist Don McAllister, who has also done some studies on the cost of coral reef destruction in the country. Aside from coral bleaching – which occurs when ocean temperatures are abnormally high – another problem that threatens the country’s endangered reefs are the coral-eating crown of thorns starfish. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF) reported that destructive starfish were detected in many Philippine reefs, including those in Mabini, Batangas; Apo Reef off the Dumaguete coast; Puerto Galera in Mindoro; Roxas in Palawan; Bolinao in Lingayen Gulf; and Kiamba and Glan in Sarangani Bay. But there are signs of hope. Although coral reefs are considered to be declining around the country, active coastal and marine protected areas in the Central Visayas are showing improvements in coral cover and fish abundances. In 1918, mangroves covered 450,000 hectares are opposed to 138,000 hectares today. Presently, mangroves are “relatively stable and even increasing in selected areas of management in Visayas,” according to the World Bank report. As such, overall rate of decline in recent years has lessened. Mangroves are important feeding sites for many commercially important fish species (mullet, tilapia, eel, and especially milkfish), shrimps, prawns, mollusks, crabs, and sea cucumbers. Fry that gather in mangrove areas are very important for aquaculture. — ###