By Madelaine B. Miraflor
SIQUIJOR – Chinese government officials have raised the possibility of importing bangus or milkfish from the Philippines, Agriculture Undersecretary for Fisheries Eduardo Gongona said.
Gongona, who also serves as the director of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), said this was relayed to him during his recent four-day bilateral meeting in China to discuss potential partnership in the fisheries sector.
“We are introducing bangus there. It is still not in their menu, but they really, really want it,” Gongona told reporters here during the Malinis at Masaganang Karagatan (MMK) Awarding Ceremony and Awarding of Agri-Fishery Livelihood Ceremony.
In a separate interview, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol confirmed that the “idea of exporting bangus to China” is something that BFAR is working on right now and the government is “very happy to witness this program to start.”
The Philippines has been exporting bangus to other countries like the United States. Bulk of the supply comes from Dagupan, but Piñol said there is now a growing bangus production in Mindanao, too.
On concerns whether the country has enough bangus to export, Piñol said this plan will be backed by BFAR’s fish cage program.
“We will tie this up with our fish cage program and we’re looking at 300 fish cages in each region that before the end of the year [and] that would be about 3,600 fish cages. Each fish cage could produce about 40 tons per harvest twice a year. That’s the volume that we are capable of producing and those are actually export quality,” Piñol said.
Gongona said that Chinese officials, together with some companies interested in importing bangus will come to the Philippines within this year to further discuss this plan.
His visit to China came less than a month since the maritime incident involving a Chinese vessel and Filipino fishing vessel F/B Gem-Ver.
During the incident, F/B Gem-Ver 1 suffered major damage after being hit by the Chinese vessel, causing it to sink and leaving all 22 fisherfolks floating in the middle of the sea for about six hours before being rescued by Vietnamese vessel.
When asked if the incident was discussed during the bilateral meeting, Gongona said no because such issue is an entirely different agenda.
The incident was said to have resulted in P2-million loss on the Filipino fishermen, including about 3 tons of fish with estimated worth of P1 million; P500,000 in capital; and P700,000 for the fishing boat.
With the said amount of damage, Piñol pointed out that it is already time for the government to initiate the modernization of the Philippine fishing boats.
“This incident should be an awakening incident for us na dapat na nating baguhin at i-modernize ang ating fisheries sector by offering them new, leveled up and modernized fishing boats made of steel,” said Piñol.
Majority of the boats being used in the country for fishing were made up from woods, which according to the DA secretary is very fragile and will not leave a single chance to overcome unexpected incidents in the seas.
To initiate the fishing boat modernization program, Piñol said they are already drafting a proposal to be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte.
On Friday, Gongona and Piñol led the distribution of 20 units of fiberglass boats to fishermen in this island.
The boat distribution was done on the sidelines of the government’s awarding of best coastal communities in the Philippines under the MMK program.
Now on its third year, MMK was launched in 2016 to give recognition to coastal municipalities for their efforts in protecting and conserving the marine environment.
It has five general criteria including absence of illegal fishing, observance of closed season for fishing, the establishment of a protected marine sanctuary, clean coastal waters free of domestic and industrial wastes and, an effective mangrove protection and rehabilitation program.