Food security advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan is worried that the government’s planned fish importation during the second half of the year is ill-timed and may be detrimental to local fishermen.
In a statement, Tugon Kabuhayan convenor and former Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) National Director Asis Perez said the government must instead consider aquaculture produce as a viable alternative during the anticipated lower fish supply in wet markets during the coming closed fishing season.
He issued the statement amid reports that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) recommended a high volume of fish importation during the scheduled six-month closed fishing season from October 1, 2021 to March 1, 2022. NEDA’s recommendation for fish importation is part of the government’s overall efforts to control a possible increase in food prices in the country amid stricter COVID-19 lockdown measures.
But for its part, Perez thinks the timing for this proposed fish importation is “too early” as it covers the period when the country’s fish production is at its peak.
“The last quarter of each year is always the peak of the country’s fish production. Traditionally, this is the time when fish farmers harvest in anticipation of increased seafood demand during the long holiday season,” Perez said. “Dumping imported fish into the market at this time of year is likely to hurt not only the fishing sector but the country’s aquaculture industry as well,” he added.
There are three major closed seasons in the Philippines. The earliest starts November 1 for Northeast Palawan until January 31 each year, while part of the Visayan Sea is closed from November 15 to February 15. Zamboanga Peninsula closes from December 1 to March 1. All three closed seasons overlap from December 1 to January 31 each year.
“Logically, it is the first quarter of each year where production is lowest, but data shows that there is a significant increase by the second quarter,” Perez said.
Tugon Kabuhayan noted that the closed season for sardines has no impact on canned sardines supply as their price should be stable during this period.
The canned sardines produced on a particular quarter is never made available in the market at the same time, and is normally stored for curing purposes. “In normal times, the overall effect of closed season is the incremental increase in sardine biomass that should translate to increased production each year,” Perez said.
The group said that they will provide NEDA with information to show that the country’s aquaculture industry is more than capable of ensuring sufficient fish protein supply in most places in the country.
It added the capability of domestic producers should be recognized. “For years, the aquaculture sector has been effectively contributing to the stability of fish supply not only during closed season but even during calamities,” the group said.
Right now, the DA is consulting with stakeholders when it comes to the ideal volume of fish to be imported. The other day, DA Undersecretary for Agri-Industrialization and Fisheries Cheryl Marie Natividad-Caballero said that stakeholders’ participation in this fish importation proposal is crucial.
Caballero said the government is talking to stakeholders, which is composed of aquaculture producers and municipal and commercial fisherfolk, to agree on the volume of fish to be imported.