Globalization of Fisheries: Still Empty Nets, Perpetual Hunger Impact of Globalization on Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector

Globalization of Fisheries: Still Empty Nets, Perpetual Hunger

Impact of Globalization on Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector 

By Fernando Hicap, national chairperson, Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) or National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines.

 Paper delivered on the occasion of the International Conference

on Fisheries and Globalization

Iloilo Province, Philippines

September 19-21, 2012

 Good morning friends and colleagues in the fisheries sector.

 The collective leadership and national membership of Pamalakaya encompassing 43 provinces and 8 regions all over the country express their gratitude to organizers of the International Conference on Fisheries and Globalization (ICFG) for taking this brave undertaking to get the real score on the impact of globalization on fisheries and aquaculture sector, and on the impact of globalization to small-scale fisherfolk, fish workers and fishing communities.

Our group through my representation is tasked to discuss the impact of globalization on the fisheries and aquaculture sector, and we will take this opportunity to share the collective views and sentiments of the Filipino fisherfolk on this global concern.

Colleagues and fraternal friends, the impact of globalization to fisheries and to the community of fishing people can be summarized as follows: empty nets and perpetual hunger, global social injustice and environmental disorder.

We range this strong political indictment of neo-liberal globalization based on the experience of Filipino fisher people and on the equally threatening accounts of other small-scale fishermen and poor working fishing people in many parts of Asian region under the regime of free trade.

To begin with, a 2010 UN FAO report on world fisheries says that global fish supply has grown at a rate of 3.2 percent annually from 1961 to 2009, outpacing the world’s population growth rate of 1.7 % per year. The same UN FAO report noted that global fish production has reached 154 million tonnes, of which, 85 percent of the total production were intended for human consumption.

According to FAO report, total capture fisheries contributed 90.4 million tonnes to the global fish supply, of which 78.9 million tonnes were sourced from marine capture fisheries. On the other hand inland capture fishreis contributed 11.5 million tonnes.

The UN FAO report likewise indicates the impressive showing of the global aquaculture sector. Its report says the fish culture sector managed to expand by a mile with 8.8 percent annual growth rate, transforming the sector into fastest growing food system all over the world.

In 2010, the aquaculture sector produced 60 million tonnes with an estimated value of $ 119.4 billion with the Asian region accounting for 89 percent of the world aquaculture production.

Behind the so-called “remarkable performance” of global fisheries, is the general picture of hundreds of  millions of coastal and inland people suffering from declined fish catch, perpetual dispossession, opportunity loss, hunger and poverty and periodic experience of environmental disaster negates the promise of bounty harvest professed by neo-liberal globalization.

19 years ago, the Philippine government assured our poor fisherfolk that they would no longer be going home with empty nets. The Manila governemnt promised us that life in coastal villages would be fruitful, bountiful and decent as the Philippine Congress and the President of the Republic formalized the country’s membership to World Trade Organization, the chief instrument of neo-liberal trade globalization.

What was professed 19 years ago turned out to be an exact opposite of today. Based on the 2009 official poverty statistics for the basic sectors, the fishermen, according to the Philippine government posted the highest poverty incidence for nine basic sectors in the country at 41.4%.

This is the same level in 2006, followed by farmers and children at poverty incidences of 36.7% from 37.2% in 2006 and 35.1% from 32.7% in 2006, respectively. In the same poverty incident report, hunger and poverty are widespread among fishermen, farmers, children, self-employed and unpaid family workers are higher than the poverty incidence among population in the Philippines at 26.5% in 2009.

The country’s membership to WTO and engagement in free trade dominated by global economic powers further pushed backwardness of the local fishing industry and exacerbated the export-oriented and import dependent character of the Philippine fisheries sector to the detriment of small-scale fisherfolk, fish workers, the fishing communities and the marine and inland environment.

In a survey conducted by Pamalakaya in several fishing communities from 2002 to 2010, globalization failed to increase productivity of small people involved in fishing. Fish capture fisheries remains stagnant with small-scale fisheries languishing on an average daily fish catch of 3 kilos to 5 kilos a day, which enough to compensate expenses for high cost of fuel that makes up 80 percent of their production cost.

During the pre-globalization years, municipal fishermen managed to catch 10 kilos to 20 kilos a day for daily subsistence with modest income spare for other needs of the family. Today life in fishing villages is different compared to the pre-WTO years. It is more difficult, complicated and extremely hard for coastal people.

The same old story of disenfranchisement applies to our working peers in commercial and aquaculture fisheries. Fish workers live like modern-slaves in empires of backward industrial fishing fleets and colonies of aquaculture enterprises.

Fish workers in commercial fishing vessels still used to work more than 20 hours per day and they are paid way below the prescribed minimum wage. In a survey conducted by chapters of Pamalakaya in 2002, 2006 and 2010,  results revealed that majority of fish workers in fish capture merely receive a  daily take home pay of P 100-P 150 (roughly 2 to 3 US dollars). They don’t enjoy any benefits from their employers like social securities and health support and these jobs are highly insecured.

The aquaculture sector, the key player in export-oriented Philippine fisheries does not employ a considerable number of regular work force on regular basis, since they just employ seasonal fish workers receiving the usual low wages and almost zero benefits from their local and foreign employers.

Global Plunder

The impact of globalization to fisheries and to the community of fishing people can be summarized as follows: empty nets and perpetual hunger, global social injustice and environmental disorder

The inspiring fisheries statistics pertaining to the global performance of world fisheries does not translate to improvement of the marignalized situation of small-scale fisherfolks and hard working fish workers.

On the contrary, globalization pushed an intensified era of rapid extraction and overcapitalization to realize huge profits in the name of corporate greed and relentless fetish for super profits.

The global plunder can be glimpsed in the UN FAO 2010 report published this year.  In 1976, the value of trade in fish and fishery products was only $ 8 billion and leaped to $ 102 billion in 2010—an indication of a sustained, ever increasing demand for fish trade ushered by the trade liberalization policies, globalization of food systems and technological innovations and eternal thirst for super profits.

Globalization has merely intensified the character of world fish production from main source of food and protein for global population needs to a key source of foiregn curency through unabated extraction of resources in the name of exports of fish and fish products and in the name of massive hunt for giant returns on investments.

Today there is an estimated 4.26 million fishing vessels playing the world’s bodies of water according to UN FAO 2010 report.  Of these,  3.23 million vessels operate in marine waters and the remaining 1.13 million vessels conduct fishing activities in inland waters. This depicts a global situation of unbridled exploitaiton of marine and inland resources.

The same report says Asia has the largest fleet with a total number of 3.18 million or 73 percent of the world’s total, followed by Africa with 11 percent, Latin America and the Carribean with 8 percent, North America with 3 percent and Europe with 3 percent.

However, it does not mean that the fisherfolk people live in comfort in these continents, since the owners of many of the advance and highly capable industrial fishing fleets are the rich capitalists from the North in joint partnership with the local fish lords and local top government officials.

It is interesting to note that globalization and the deregulated regime in global fisheries led to the deployment of large investments on large-sized fishing vessels.  It started to peak in the mid-1980s and in 1999, the UN FAO has estimated that 30 percent to 40 percent overcapacity in the global fishing fleet.

In 2011, this situation forced global fish production to reach 150.4 million tonnes with marine capture contributing 90.4 million tonnes courtesy of coercive and destructive fishing efforts.

These investments fueled by transnational and state subsidies to fishing giants led to grandslam exploitation of marine resources to the detriment of the marginalzed fisherfolk and the global public in general.

According to UN FAO 2010 report published this year, in terms of value, 67 percent of the fishery exports of underdeveloped fishing nations were served in silver platter to developed nations, of which, 54 percent were directed to US, Japan and the European Union. This means that the fisherpeople of the underdeveloped countries produced fish not for their domestic consumption but to the corporate food business of the North.

In return, the underdeveloped nations in Asia continue to play their roles to the hilt as receiving ends of surplus fish and seocnd hand fishing technologies from the North to feed their low-income and largely poor population.

The era of neo-liberalization has triggered the exploitation and depletion of global fish stocks. Twelve years after the formalization of WTO, in 2007, the FAO reported that 52 percent of the global fish stocks were fully exploited or depleted,  20 percent were moderately exploited and only 1 percent showed signs of recovery.

Meanwhile, the global aquaculture sector, according to FAO has reached an all-time high of 79 million tonnes in 2010, which include the production of other aquatic plants and non-food products with an estimate value of $ 125 billion.

In terms of impact, the annual 6.3 percent annual growth rate in global aquaculture production translates to massive appropiation of public lands and coastal communities into aquaculture farms, conversion of mangrove areas into fish ponds and aquaculture farms and land conversions of agricultural lands to fish farms and perennial pollution problems thus displacing farmers and altering the ecological balance both in marine and inland waters due to conversion and mush rooming of these aquaculture farms.

Today, the UN estimates that the global aquaculture sector employs roughly 16 million fish farm workers, of which 97 percent are found in Asia. And if we look closer to the situation of these fish workers in aquaculture farms, we will find out that modern-day slaveries exist in these farms in parallel with the destruction of marine and inland environment.

Despite the hard work provided by 54.8 million people engaged in fish production for the protein intake and food needs of 4.3 billion people across the globe, globalization and neo-liberalization of fisheries never made a dent in raising the standard of living of marginalized people in the fisheries sector.

Privatization and conversion of coastal resources, communities

Another glaring impact of globalization and neoliberal policies under the trading regime of WTO is the privatization and conversion of water resources including oceans and lakes, municipal waters and offshore waters to transnational investments for privatization, free entry of investments and denationalization of underdeveloped economies.

The deregulated and unhampered policy in allowing foreign capital pushed the Philippine government to willfully open all water-based resources for transnational syndicates. Our government had agreed with international capital to expand and accumulate at the expense of people’s livelihood and social justice in exchange for fresh investments to revive its chronic economic crisis and juicy commissions from foreign clients.

This neo-liberal policy on non-barriers to investment and foreign capital prompted PH President Aquino to offer two of the major fishing areas—the 90,000 hectare freshwater Laguna Lake and Manila Bay to foreign investors.

Under the neo-liberal globalization inspired Public-Private Partnership (PPP), the Aquino government offered to financial investors 54 big ticket projects in Laguna Lake that would initially cost local taxpayers some P 400-billion.

The Laguna Lake Master Plan,  a development program hopes to transform the lake fishing environment into a major industrial and commercial hub for foreign and local investments.

Initial plans include the dredging of 90,000 hectare lake, the conversion of lake water into a major source of potable water for industrial, commercial and residential users, the development of water transportation for eco-tourism, the construction of 100 kilometer road dike spanning several municipalities of Rizal and Laguna provinces and a few cities of the National Capital Region (NCR) along the lake, the reclamation of 7,000 hectares in Southern Metro Manila as support infrastructure for high end condominiums and hotels which will be built along the lake.

Fisherfolk activists opposed the Green Economy takeover of Laguna Lake citing its impact of livelihood and the lake’s biodiversity  (Photo by Anya Mendoza, Pamalakaya staff)


Officials of the Aquino administration said the master plan will initially displace 82,000 fishing families or households in Laguna Lake or roughly 500,000 lake residents’ mainly small-scale fisherfolk and lake dwellers.

In Manila Bay, the Philippine state had embarked on a national reclamation plan consisting 38 land reclamation projects and will eat up 26,234 hectares of foreshore areas and coastal lands.

Aside from fresh wave of demolition of fishing communities, the land reclamation projects will destroy the remaining 175 hectare of mangrove forest in Metro Manila.

 Foreign capitalists are also approaching in high seas for oil and gas exploration under the dictum of free flow of foreign capital and investments. The Aquino administration has put in the bidding table over 10-million hectares of ocean waters in Visayas Sea, Palawan Sea, Sulu Sea and other areas in the disputed South China for oil and gas exploration.

 As offshore waters become threatened by gas and oil mining projects, coastal shores aside from reclamation, privatization and conversion have become targets of magnetite mining, particularly in the climate change and typhoon prone areas of Cagayan and Ilocos provinces in Northern Luzon, Negros Island in Western Philippines and the Eastern Visayas region.

While mining companies are raking more green bucks for monopoly profits, the devastating impacts of blacksand mining are now taking their toll on the livelihood and environment of fishing and farming communities.

Ladies and genlemen, friends and colleagues in global fisheries, to sum up the speech this morning, our assessment of globalization on fisheries failed to bring the people to real road map to economic progress and sustainable development.

This global economic prescription failed to eradicate hunger and poverty, and on the other hand has opened the floodgates for grandslam plunder and exploitation of fishing people, fishing communities and fishery resources.

The brigher side of all these gripping tales of hardship and survival is the persistent resolve of the global fisherpeople to struggle for meaningful reforms and genuine changes. The horizon is clear for the eventual victory of the global fisherpeople.

The collective and intensified resistance put up by fisherfolk social movements have stopped if not derailed the sinister agenda of foreign monopoly capital and client states in pursuing anti-fisherfolk, anti-people and anti-environment programs. Today’s struggle will be a bright future for tomorrow.

Thank you and good morning once again.

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