The Philippine fleet has a large number of small vessels that use handline gear to catch tuna species. These vessels were responsible for 98,420 MT of tuna landings in 2015, corresponding to 46% of the total tuna landings in the Philippines. Of the handline landings in 2015, 72,646 MT was yellowfin tuna (76% of total yellowfin tuna catch), 23,774 MT of skipjack tuna (21% of the total skipjack tuna catch) and 2,000 MT of bigeye tuna (55% of the total bigeye tuna catch). Note that these landing figures per gear type are only known for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, including Philippine waters, which comprises around 90% of the total landings.

Handline fishing is deemed very environmental friendly with little bycatch and no environmental destruction. WWF is supporting a large tuna handline Fisheries Improvement Project in the Philippines which involves several European retailers and wholesalers.

Key features
Number of boats

4,000 to 10,000

Type of fishing


Fishing areas

Throughout the country in municipal (<15km offshore) and commercial waters (>15km offshore) and FAO 71 (Western and Central Pacific Ocean)

Target species

Yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna

Landing areas

Mindoro, Palawan, Negros, Antique, Dumaguete, IloIlo and Mindanao (Davao, General Santos and Cagayan D’oro)

Potential risks
  • Insufficient ice on board may deteriorate the quality of the tuna

Fleet and boat characteristics

Handline vessels are in general 3 to 8 meter long, engine driven wooden vessels. Municipal vessels are below 3 GT and commercial vessels up to about 10 GT in size. They contain between 1 to 5 fishermen per vessel. The majority of these vessels are owned by the fishers themselves and operate in a semi-independent fashion. It is difficult to estimate the exact number of vessels that engage in tuna handline fishing since most fishing vessels switch between multiple types of gear and catch a large number of species. Therefore only full-time tuna handline vessels are highlighted here. There are approximately 4,000 to 10,000 vessels fulltime active in the Philippines.

Fishing method

Tuna are caught using a thick handheld nylon line with a single baited hook. The line is dropped to a depth of approximately 100 – 150 meter using a small rock as a sinker. Bait consists of squid and small baitfish like sardines. Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD’s) are often used.

Target species

Target species are yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna, but skipjack tuna is also caught.

Fishing areas

Tuna handline fishermen catch tuna both in municipal waters (within 15 km from the shoreline) and commercial waters (>15 km from the shoreline). This complicates local fishery management since the vessels fall under the responsibility of the municipality, while commercial waters are managed by the national authorities.

Landing areas

As handline vessels are small they are able to land their catch at a variety of places, ranging from community beaches to oceanic fishing ports. Main tuna landing sites for handline fishermen are Mindoro, Palawan, Negros, Antique, Dumaguete, IloIlo and Mindanao (Davao, General Santos and Cagayan D’oro).


Tuna species are caught year-round but their migratory habit has a big influence on local abundance. It has been suggested that the 4 year El Nino weather cycle plays a big role in local tuna abundance as tuna’s tend to migrate to areas with small prey fish and plankton. However, these relationships are poorly understood and predicting local abundance is hard. In the western part of the Philippines landings increase from March to June. In the eastern part, landings tend to increase from October to January.

Due to the small size of handline vessels, their catch is strongly influenced by these annual weather patterns. The windy season from January to March (called Amihan) has a negative impact on the landings of handline fishers as well as the typhoon season that normally lasts from August to November.

Stock status

In the Western and Central Pacific Ocean the stock spawning biomass of both skipjack as yellowfin tuna is at or above BMSY, while bigeye tuna spawning biomass is below BMSY and not stable or increasing.

In the Eastern Indian Ocean (EIO) the yellowfin tuna stock is in worse shape, with spawning biomass below BMSY and not stable or increasing. Skipjack and bigeye tuna are doing well in the EIO, with both spawning biomasses at or above BSMY.

(ISSF Status of Tuna Stocks – 2016)