Tuna in The Philippines

Tuna is by far the largest seafood export commodity of the Philippines in terms of value and offers a livelihood to thousands of fishermen. The recent political developments and implemented measures by the Indonesian government to combat IUU fishing have restricted Philippine commercial fishing vessels from fishing in Indonesian waters. As a result, the supply of raw material to canneries and processing factories in the Philippines has decreased, which has resulted in increased tuna prices. Nevertheless, at the same time, the country has gained GSP+ status from the European Union which has partially restored the competitiveness of Philippine tuna as an export commodity. The Philippines is best known for its high quality, fresh yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and is at the moment the biggest supplier of fresh yellowfin tuna to the European Union. Other commercially important tuna species for the Philippines are skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus). The Philippine fishing fleet consists of 98% out of small vessels operating close to shore and only 2% are commercial vessels operating in commercial waters and high seas. The tuna fishery employs a variety of gear to catch different species. Skipjack tuna are mostly targeted by purse seine vessels to supply cannery operations, while yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna are the main target species for the handline and longline fisheries that focus on fresh and frozen products. All the aforementioned species are caught countrywide but landing locations differ per species. The purse seine and longline fleets are centred around the southern province of Mindanao while handliners are active throughout all major fishing grounds in the country.

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Sourcing news

Production and export statistics

Species wise production

Source: FAO (2018)

Landing figures from 2012 to 2016 start out with a slightly increasing trend which can be mainly attributed to an increased fishing efforts. From 2015 onward numbers are decreasing. Although fishing effort is likely to be further increased in coming years it is expected that landing figures will maintain stable or decrease further as the stocks are still not properly managed and Philippine boats are restricted from Indonesian waters. Bigeye tuna landings are relatively

low as this species has been overfished for decades throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

The majority of the landing figures for tuna are reported to and verified by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) which are in charge of the management of all highly migratory species in the region, including tuna. This control system ensures that these landing figures are pretty accurate, although it should be noted that catches from artisanal handline fishers are probably under reported due to a shortage of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) enumerators in remote area and illiteracy of fishermen.

Tuna catches per species per gear (2015)

Source: BFAR WCPFC country report (2016). *Landings figures per gear type are only known for the WCPO, which includes Philippine waters and comprises approximately 90% of the total landing figures.

Skipjack tuna are mostly targeted by purse seine and ringnet vessels (a smaller version of purse seine) to supply cannery operations, while larger yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna are the main target species for the handline and longline

fisheries that focuses on fresh and frozen products. It is also interesting to see that purse seine vessels catch a large percentage of the yellowfin and bigeye tuna which can be attributed to the fact that juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna tend to school together with the smaller skipjack tuna.

Catch figures per gear type for Philippine vessels fishing in the Indian Ocean are expected to show a similar trend, with the exception of handline vessels which are limited to Philippine waters.

Export markets

Source: Trade Map (2018), International Trade Centre, intracen.org

After some years with decreasing export of tuna, due to less demand of canned tuna on the international market, the graph above clearly show that the volume of tuna being exported have increased significantly from 2016 to 2017. Value, on the other hand, keep decreasing, indicating that the prices payed per ton of canned tuna from the Philippines

in is quite low.

The United States has always been one of the major trading partners of the Philippines due to previous colonial ties. The United States only imports a small amount of fresh tuna products as they have their own tuna fleet, making fresh tuna from the Philippines less competitive for the United States market.. Import of canned tuna, on the other hand have had a significant decline the last years due to less demand on the American market. [read-more] As the graph clearly show the export of tuna in volume to the American market have increased significantly in 2017, while the value has decreased. In 2016 the US imported 9,048 MT for 27,614 US$000, while they in 2017 imported 66,088 MT for 35,466 US$000.

After the Philippines was granted a GSP+ status which resulted in a 0% import tariff on tuna products destined for EU, the European Union is a significant export market for Philippine tuna. Without this status, tuna products from the Philippines were not able to compete with more price competitive products from Thailand, Vietnam, Maldives and Sri Lanka. EU is the biggest importer of fresh/chilled/frozen tuna, where the import numbers in volume and value have been stable the last 5 years. In the European Union, especially fresh yellowfin tuna products are doing well due to the sustainable reputation and known quality of handline caught tuna. In combination with supply problems that Sri Lanka and the Maldives are facing, the Philippines has currently become the largest supplier of fresh yellowfin tuna products to the European Union (as of August 2016). Italy and Spain are importing the largest quantities. Numbers from 2017 show that canned product are doing better than previous years, more volumes are imported, but the price stay low.

Japan, as the worlds' largest sashimi market, is another big buyer of Philippine tuna, which imports mostly high grade fresh tuna products.

Export products in 2017 (tonnes)

Source: Trade Map (2018), International Trade Centre, intracen.org and BFAR Annual Report 2015

As handline caught tuna is of better quality compared to tuna originating from most other fisheries, the Philippines large handline fleet is therefore a significant player in the market for fresh tuna products. Yellowfin tuna is the main species for the fresh market with products including whole tuna, headed and gutted tuna, loins, centre cuts and saku


The market share for frozen products from the Philippines is much smaller because the country has a hard time competing with other low cost producers like Thailand and Indonesia. These countries are also more technologically advanced in their canning operations (newer equipment) and supply chain resulting in more competitive prices. Export of frozen/chilled/fresh tuna has increased both in volume and value from 2016 (21,772 MT / 65,448 US$000) to 2017 (31,447 MT/ 115,043 US$000)

Prepared or preserved products, mainly canned tuna, count for 85 percent of the total export. After some years with decline, the volume exported in 2017 (184,168 MT) was three time as much as in 2016. On the other hand, prices per ton have declines significantly, as the value of 184,168 MT in 2017 was 294,307 US$000 compared to 60,815 MT in 2016 or 179,168 US$000.

Supply Chain

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Risk assessment

Potential environmental risks

  • Limited fisheries management in the Pacific region
  • Potential bycatch of endangered species in the longline fishery
  • Potential bycatch of juvenile/ undersized tuna in the purse seine fishery

Potential social risks

  • Underpayment of staff sometimes occurs in the purse seine fishery
  • Financial dependence of handline fishers on buying stations, which has both positive and negative sides

Potential quality and supply chain risks

  • Cold-chain can occur due to lack of proper chilling and freezing facilities on board some vessels
  • Some supply chains are more traceable than others

Species in The Philippines

Click on the species and find out more about the species in The Philippines