“Even though we still only have a partial picture, it is clear that the damage caused to the fisheries sector is immense and spans the entire value chain, from catch to market,” said Rodrigue Vinet, acting FAO representative in the Philippines. “In the context of livelihoods, these losses are crippling.”
According to preliminary assessments by the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture, small-scale fishers were the worst affected when the typhoon tore through the country in November, destroying or damaging tens of thousands of small boats and fishing gear in its path, while larger commercial boats suffered less damage. Around 16 500 seaweed farmers—mostly women—also lost their livelihoods.
The typhoon flattened crucial infrastructure, including jetties and landing ports, onshore ice and cold storage facilities, boat repair and maintenance facilities, processing factories and markets.
Key aquaculture infrastructure was also destroyed, including oyster rafts, crab, shrimp and mussel farms, as well as inland tilapia cages, hatcheries and fish ponds.
Economic losses to the sector are still being quantified, but the worst-hit regions—Eastern, Central and Western Visayas and Mimaropa—are major producers in both aquaculture and fisheries, according to the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
In 2011, marine and inland fisheries in these affected regions supplied 21%, or 514,492 tonnes, of the total output from the Philippines’ municipal and commercial fisheries combined. Municipal marine fishing is carried out from the shoreline to 15km offshore, and only boats below three tonnes are authorised to fish in these waters.
Aquaculture, including seaweed, from the four regions is responsible for 33% of total national aquaculture production.
FAO cautioned that coordination is crucial in rebuilding the sector so as not to jeopardise the lives and livelihoods of fishers and fish farmers, as well as people directly and indirectly dependent on the fishing sector.
“The Philippines government has made important efforts to support small-scale fisheries, and we need to ensure that the response to this disaster does not reverse that good work,” Vinet said.
“Experience from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and other large-scale disasters has shown that inadvertent oversupply of fishing boats and equipment during the recovery can deplete fish stocks, reduce catches, harm ecosystems and damage the livelihoods of the remaining fishers.
“Boats need to be rebuilt and replaced, but this needs to be done in a coordinated manner to ensure that existing fishing capacity is not exceeded. We need to make sure that in time there are not more boats than fish.”
Vinet singled out that replacement fishing gear should be legal and non-destructive, and that boats should be built and repaired with quality materials, taking no short-cuts. “The safety of fishers is a top priority,” he said.
Plan for recovery
The FAO is currently working with the Philippines government to prepare a recovery and reconstruction plan that includes short- and medium- to long-term recovery for all agriculture subsectors, including fisheries.
It is calling for an initial $5m to restore the livelihoods of fishermen and coastal communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
In addition to repairing boats and selective fishing gear, short-term rehabilitation efforts must include providing processing tools for women, demarcating community-managed fish sanctuaries and promoting cash-for-work programmes to assist in the clean-up efforts.