Fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) is asking the government to look for other solutions to the expected shortage of tilapia and galunggong, stressing importation in not the answer as this will be detrimental to small fishermen.
PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando Hicap said the Department of Agriculture (DA) should have already come up with a more sustainable solution to the expected shortage by now since this has already been an annual occurrence.
“When will the DA ever learn that resorting to importation every time there is a fish shortage will never address this yearly cycle of a fisheries crisis?” Hicap asked.
“While we recognize that there may be an actual shortage in fisheries production brought about by the pandemic, the common-sense solution is to fortify government intervention and adequately support the local production,” he added.
“Opening our floodgates for imports would do more harm than good, especially to the small fishers who will be left at a disadvantage”.
Last week, the DA revealed its current food supply outlook, which shows that that by the end of the year, there will be a deficit in the country’s fishery supply of about 42 days’ worth of consumption.
To fill this in, the DA is contemplating importing additional supply, or about 400,000 metric tons (MT) supplemental fish imports.
Without imports, the agency’s outlook indicated that the supply is estimated to be at 2.9 million MT, which is lower than the demand of 3.3 million MT.
For round scad or galunggong, the country’s supply is estimated to be at 53,925 MT by the end of the year, which is lower than the demand of 105,690 MT. This shows a deficit of 51,765 MT.
For tilapia, on the other hand, the supply stood only at 102,624 MT versus a demand of 114,660 MT, showing a deficit of 12,036 MT.
However, Hicap said imported fishery and marine products “outcompetes and further pulls down farmgate prices of fresh and locally-caught fish”.
At present, farmgate prices of galunggong and tilapia are at P60 per kilogram (/kg) to P70/kg and P30/kg to P40/kg, respectively.
“Flooding our local market with imported fish will further downgrade the value of our local fishery products, leaving our small fishers at the losing end,” Hicap said.
“Imported fish which are frozen and inferior in quality are relatively cheaper than our local fish products. This trend is akin to how local rice farmers are being lambasted by the impacts of imported rice facilitated by the Rice Liberalization Law. This is how liberalization of agriculture and fisheries sabotages the livelihood of Filipino fishers and farmers across the country,” he further said.
He then suggested that DA should just manage the country’s fish supply and make other fishery products more accessible and affordable to consumers.
“There are plenty of fish in the Philippine seas, why not make them more accessible and affordable to poor consumers instead of importing deficient varieties?” Hicap said.
Right now, if there’s a shortage in tilapia and galunggong, considered as the “poor man’s fish” for its affordability, there is now an abundance in the local supply of some high-value fishery products like tuna and crabs.
These products — considered high-value fisheries products for their prices — are supposed to be exported to other countries but couldn’t go anywhere because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. They are also normally served in restaurants.
Because of this, Asis Perez, former director of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), advised Filipinos to tweak their fish consumption a bit and lean more on these high-value fishery products to make up for the lost export revenues.
He then said the government should help local exporters identify the domestic markets where they can divert their products, especially now that it’s hard to export them to other countries.