'Higher than average' fish importation mulled

Published August 11, 2021, 3:15 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

The Philippine government may import more fish than the average amount in anticipation of this year’s closed fishing season, which could push food prices higher in the coming months.

During the Food and Sustainability Forum organized by the Economic Journalist Association of the Philippines (EJAP) and Aboitiz Group, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the Department of Agriculture (DA) has already started the consultation to identify the amount of fish products, most likely galunggong, that the country will be importing towards the latter part of the year.

(Unsplash)

Such importation will be done through Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 259, which established the rules and regulation on the importation of frozen fish and aquatic products for wet markets during closed and off-fishing seasons or during the occurrence of calamities.

Through FAO 259, which was issued in 2018, the Philippine government can issue Certificates of Necessity to Import (CNI) for fish.

Although Dar could not tell yet the volume of fish needed for importation, National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla said in a text exchange that her agency thinks the ideal volume of fish to be imported in the coming months should be “more than the average being given CNI in the past.” Sombilla declined to give the exact volume that NEDA has recommended because the agency does not “want to preempt further discussions that DA may have to undergo to necessarily adjust.”

“The volume has to be provided by the DA based on their supply and demand estimate. We support the issuance of Certificate of Necessity to Import (CNI) and we expressed that this has to be issued way before the close season which usually starts October so that additional supply will arrive on time,” Sombilla further said.

On Tuesday, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the issuance of CNIs for fish is part of the government efforts to keep food prices from rising. Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data showed that fish prices rose by 9.3 percent in July.

During the second quarter of the year, the country’s fisheries output, which accounted for 16.1 percent of the total agricultural production, also dropped by 1.1 percent.

Double-digit contractions were noted for yellowfin tuna (tambakol/bariles) at -34.9 percent, roundscad (galunggong) at -18.3 percent, threadfin bream (bisugo) at -17.1 percent, frigate tuna (tulingan) at -16.9 percent, fimbriated sardines (tunsoy) at -13.7 percent, skipjack (gulyasan) at -12.0 percent, and Bali sardinella (tamban) at -10.0 percent. Lower production ranging from -2.2 percent to -0.5 percent were also registered for Indian mackerel (alumahan), tiger prawn (sugpo), and seaweed.

In a phone interview, DA Undersecretary for Agri-Industrialization and Fisheries Cheryl Marie Natividad-Caballero said the government was expecting to issue CNIs covering 30,000 MT of galunggong last year, but only around 26,000 MT was exhausted. She said this is part of government efforts to balance the supply and demand for fisheries products.

Caballero said that DA, through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), is consulting with stakeholders, which is composed of aquaculture producers and municipal and commercial fisherfolk, in terms of the amount of fish they think should be imported.

This is to make sure that imported products will not affect local producers, Caballero said.

Dar directed BFAR to submit its volume recommendation by August 20.

“We will try our best to meet that deadline,” Caballero said. “But stakeholders’ participation in this is crucial”

 
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