‘A DEEP DIVE INTO COLLAPSE’: Iloilo’s fisheries sector faces unprecedented decline

Fish are offloaded and traded at the Iloilo Fishing Port in Iloilo City. (Photo courtesy of JP Faelmarin via FB)

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

The once-thriving fisheries sector in Iloilo is now grappling with an alarming downturn, according to analysis provided by Iloilo-based think tank Institute of Contemporary Economics (ICE).

Citing local data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and other local economic reports, Iloilo fisheries is facing a historic decline in production and value.

The fisheries volume of production in Iloilo has suffered its largest year-on-year decline since records began in 1980.

From 2020 to 2023, the sector experienced a continuous drop, culminating in a staggering 42.1% decline in 2023. This period marks the first-ever instance of three consecutive years of volume decreases, with production plummeting from 80,000 metric tons in 2020 to a mere 36,000 metric tons in 2023.

The economic ramifications of this decline are severe, according to ICE Executive Director Joseph Ladrido.

The value of fisheries output in Iloilo dropped to PHP 5.417 billion in 2023, the lowest since 1999. This sharp decrease follows a peak in 2021 when the value reached nearly PHP 10 billion.

Production trend

A comparative analysis of the top fisheries products by value in 2021 and 2023 highlights the severity of the decline (see table below). The data were based on PSA figures:

Based on the table, milkfish production value decreased significantly from PHP 1,430,383,000 in 2021 to PHP 356,954,000 in 2023, indicating a major drop in either production volume or market value.

The value of blue crab (alimasag) also saw a substantial decline from PHP 1,343,443,000 in 2021 to PHP 456,739,000 in 2023.

For threadfin bream, this species experienced a reduction from PHP 684,002,000 in 2021 to PHP 261,990,000 in 2023.

Despite the overall trend of decreasing values, squid production maintained a relatively strong position, though it dropped from PHP 651,432,000 in 2021 to PHP 550,308,000 in 2023.

The production value of round scad (galunggong) fell from PHP 568,940,000 in 2021 to PHP 326,815,000 in 2023.

Slipmouth (sapsap) production was notably absent from the top 10 in 2023 after recording a value of PHP 365,625,000 in 2021.

For Indian Mackerel or alumahan, this species saw a slight decrease from PHP 313,711,000 in 2021 to PHP 278,309,000 in 2023.

The value of crevalle or salay-salay dropped from PHP 307,070,000 in 2021 to PHP 217,614,000 in 2023.

Goatfish (saramulyete) also saw a decrease from PHP 299,655,000 in 2021 to PHP 150,980,000 in 2023.

Similar to slipmouth, tilapia, which had a value of PHP 282,686,000 in 2021, did not make it to the top 10 in 2023.

Mudcrab was a new entrant in the top 10 for 2023, with a value of PHP 725,962,000, indicating a significant rise in its production or market value.

Bali sardinella (tamban): Another new entrant in 2023, Bali Sardinella recorded a value of PHP 179,298,000.

The overall trend in Iloilo’s fisheries production shows a general decline in the value of most traditional top products from 2021 to 2023.

Notably, Milkfish, Blue Crab, and Threadfin Bream saw the most significant drops.

However, new entrants like Mudcrab and Bali Sardinella suggest shifts in market demand or production focus.

These changes underscore the dynamic nature of the fisheries sector in the region, potentially driven by environmental, economic, or market factors.

The dwindling production has significant implications for the local economy, where fisheries, along with agriculture, are pivotal sectors, apart from food security concerns.

Contributing Factors and Economic Impact

The decline in Iloilo’s fisheries can be attributed to several factors, including overfishing, environmental degradation, inadequate infrastructure, and climate change.

The region’s fisheries have struggled to maintain sustainable practices, leading to depleted fish stocks and reduced productivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic also played a crucial role, disrupting supply chains and restricting movement, which hindered fishing activities and market accessibility.

Additionally, extreme weather events and changing sea temperatures have further impacted fish populations, exacerbating the industry’s challenges.

This downturn in fisheries contrasts sharply with the agricultural sector, which has seen record years in palay (rice) harvests and improvements in other crops such as corn, bananas, and coconuts​.

Despite these agricultural successes, the collapse of the fisheries industry presents a significant economic challenge for Iloilo, where agriculture, forestry, and fishing are key economic drivers.

Iloilo’s economy has long been anchored by its rich natural resources, with fisheries and agriculture playing pivotal roles. However, the recent downturn has far-reaching implications, affecting not only the local economy but also the livelihoods of thousands of fishers and related industries such as processing and distribution.

Historical Context and Future Prospects

Iloilo, known for its rich agricultural and fisheries resources, has long relied on these industries as economic mainstays.

The province is host to the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center hatchery and laboratories, and the home of UP Visayas, the flagship college of which is fisheries and ocean sciences.

Iloilo also has numerous state-run fisheries schools like the Iloilo State University of Fisheries Science and Technology (formerly Iloilo State College of Fisheries).

The recent collapse in fisheries highlights the urgent need for intervention and strategic planning to revive the sector.

According to Ladrido, Iloilo’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture, forestry, and fishing, which makes the recovery of fisheries crucial for overall economic stability.

Policy and Community Responses

In response to the crisis, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) conducted a comprehensive agriculture and fisheries census in 2022, covering all households in Iloilo.

The census aims to gather detailed data on farm sizes, land use, and the number of households engaged in farming and fishing activities. The collected data will inform policy decisions and resource allocation to address the decline and support recovery efforts.

The Regional Agriculture and Fishery Council (RAFC) of Western Visayas has also called for the sectors to become more climate-resilient.

This involves adopting sustainable practices, improving resource management, and investing in infrastructure that can mitigate the effects of climate change.