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Filipino environmentalists slam ‘illegal’ giant clam deals

Unregulated poaching and trading threaten survival of giant clams and endanger ecosystem, activist says

An official looks at a large cache of giant clams allegedly harvested and traded illegally in the Philippines

An official looks at a large cache of giant clams allegedly harvested and traded illegally in the Philippines. (Photo: The Philippines Coast Guard)   

Published: July 19, 2022 04:09 AM GMT

Updated: July 21, 2022 10:22 AM GMT

A Catholic environmental group in the Philippines has blasted a business nexus for alleged shady deals that allow the poaching and import of giant clams in the coastal province of Pangasinan.

The Saint Francis Group for Greener Environment, formed after Pope Francis published his famed environmental encyclical, Laudato Si', has called for an investigation into poaching and imports of giant clams in the province north of the capital Manila.

An official from the group said on July 18 that a corporation purportedly violated the law by engaging in poaching and the import of giant clams without securing permits.

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The group’s spokesman Jonathan De Guia said they would file a formal complaint with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on behalf of the people of the province to kickstart an investigation into the illegal sale and import of giant clams.

“We have received reports that a certain group goes to Pangasinan province to get clams harvested by locals without permits from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. We reiterate our position that we cannot tolerate poaching and trade of marine resources without valid permits from the government,” De Guia told UCA News.

"We might lose some species dependent on the clams or we could lose the clams themselves"

De Guia said the absence of any permit would mean that poachers could be “excessively” harvesting clams, thus destroying the ecosystem of marine life in the province.

“We had called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to look into these activities before it’s too late. We might lose some species dependent on the clams or we could lose the clams themselves if their harvest is not regulated,” De Guia added.

Giant clams are the largest mollusks on Earth, living in the bottom of the oceans. They are capable of reaching 1.2 meters in length and weighing more than 227 kilograms, according to the National Geographic website. Giant clams mostly live in the warm waters of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Researchers have found 13 different species of giant clams. The adductor muscle of the giant clam is considered a delicacy. Overharvesting of the species for food, shells, and the aquarium trade has prompted marine groups to list giant clams as a "vulnerable" species, National Geographic noted.

In the Philippines, giant clams are harvested as an ivory substitute and for ornamental purposes, particularly in China and Japan.

The concern about endangered giant clams surfaced in April last year, when the authorities in Palawan province confiscated stockpiles of giant claims weighing 200 metric tons amounting to 1.2 billion pesos (US$23.6 million).

"For us, it is clear there is an organized crime group behind this"

In the past five years, police and naval authorities have reportedly made 13 similar seizures and arrested violators though there were no reports of any violator being permanently put to jail.

De Guia said he fears that organized crime syndicates connected with the government are involved in the illegal trade

“Our authorities have been conducting arrests and seizures of giant clams but still the industry has not stopped. More so, no one has been punished. For us, it is clear there is an organized crime group behind this,” he told UCA News.

He noted that Philippine law prohibits 12 known giant clam species, but their research found that poachers did not discriminate species that were endangered from those that may be caught.

“But even so, they need to have permits to make sure their activity is regulated. Otherwise, it becomes illegal,” De Guia added.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has confirmed it has received several complaints about the alleged poaching and trade of giant clams.

“We have already received several complaints regarding the illegal selling of clam shells or ‘taklobo’. This is no different from the ‘tuko’ [gecko] scam in the past, where syndicates would pay locals to capture geckoes in the wild due to their healing powers,” the department’s undersecretary Albert de la Cruz told reporters on July 18.

"This promise of big money to our countrymen in exchange for giant clams is just like the old tuko scam," de la Cruz added.

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