The Philippines’ Seafood FutureCatch of the Week
A glimpse at what the future holds for Filipinos who may not experience the kind of seafood we enjoy today due to the way fisheries resources are currently being handled.
On 27 July 2014, the Philippine government hit a symbolic population mark as it welcomed its 100 millionth Filipino. While this may be a milestone for any burgeoning third world country brimming with enough manpower resources, this does not augur well in terms of food security – specifically when it comes to seafood.
At present, the Philippines produces 2.4 million tonnes of wild caught seafood. Its annual seafood production growth rate decelerated to just 0.5% in 2010 from a high of 7.5% in early 2000. It was the lowest growth rate in history since production for wild capture fisheries started. Similarly, farmed fisheries have grown slowly and started to plateau in 2006. Despite this, the country’s high production could still maintain a per capita seafood consumption of around 36 kg annually—one of the highest in the world.
Given the way our country’s fisheries resources are currently managed, future generations of Filipinos, those who will be added to the 100 million already accounted for, will see many changes in seafood throughout their lifetimes. If the country’s fisheries resources are managed the same way it has been managed in the past 40 years, here is what they will experience.
They will probably be introduced to eating seafood at 5 years old. They will be munching bits and pieces of shrimp crackers or dried fish tidbits, unmindful of the fact that seafood production (and availability) for each Filipino has declined during their existence so far. Seafood prices will have risen in double figures, making seafood access harder for low-income groups such that families will be feeling the pinch of both seafood availability and access.
In 2027, the population of the Philippines will have reached 120 million. Teenagers by then will be frequenting fast-food joints, munching a combination of shrimp sushi, fish chips, and some crab sticks with fries. Half of the seafood they consume will be imported.
The productivity of the seas will continue its downward spiral, making local supply very acutely scarce.
The government, in response to low seafood supply and in order to maintain seafood supply of 25 kg per capita per year, will have changed the policy to allow imports to supply the wet market. This will be coupled with an aggressive search for more fishing access rights in other countries. Imported seafood products, which are generally cheaper, will overwhelm local supply, driving small-scale fishing to extinction. Fishing business ventures will shift to the more profitable business of aquaculture, getting more subsidies from the government.
Most fish available in the market will be cultured ones. Scarcity will drive prices even higher, making seafood accessible only to those in the middle and higher-income groups. The government will put a ceiling price for dried fish and canned sardines to ensure that poor people still have seafood. By this time, families will start to notice that slowly, starting with the low-income groups, the rice and fish diet of Filipinos for centuries will be replaced by rice and chicken.
As the upcoming generation grows older, seafood will be a treat: only served during special occasions like parties in 2032, where the party menu will include fish sticks, crab sticks, and shrimp sticks (all from surimi). Only on the VIP table will fresh fish be served to special guests.
This scenario will be happening globally, in many developing countries. By then, the productivity of our seas will have reached its limit and many countries will disallow exports as a way to ensure national seafood security. It is likely that ‘fish wars’ could become a global problem.
By 2040, people’s knowledge of seafood will probably be limited to what is drawn on the containers of the food they eat. The number of fish species that they will probably recognize is no more than 20 species, all of which will come in the form of surimi sticks or crab omelette served in crab-shaped shells. They will barely know what actual shrimps or crabs look like or that the fish fillet they know so well is quite different from the one that has bones, scales, and fins.
It is sad to know that this future scenario has a high likelihood of happening, given the way we are currently managing our fisheries resources.
The estimated seafood gap by 2040 when there will be 150 million people is about 2.9 million tonnes, assuming the current fish consumption of 36 kg per capita. This means we need to grow by around 70,000 tonnes annually, or 2 percent of our current production, if we are to become seafood secure. This could be done only if our fisheries agencies act urgently to develop strategic action plans designed to bring back the productivity of our seas. This will include policy reforms to improve governance, build capacity for fisheries, reduce waste, improve culture efficiency and innovate and develop new and better seafood products.
By 2050, Filipinos born in 2014 may have children of their own. It is incumbent upon us to make sure that these children’s generation will enjoy the same seafood we know today.
(Original story by Dr. Jose Ingles, WWF Coral Triangle Programme from WWF-Philippines)