Fish importation will not address the country’s supposed fish shortage and skyrocketing food prices, a fisherfolk group said, arguing that such schemes are band-aid solutions that barely scratch the surface of the local fishing sector’s deep-seated woes.
To supposedly drive food prices down, the Department of Agriculture (DA), last August, approved the importation of 60,000 metric tons of galunggong, mackerel, and bonito. The DA’s move, however, would be detrimental to local fisherfolk as it would force them to drop their farmgate prices, possibly to the point of suffering losses, Fernando Hicap, chairperson of fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, told the Collegian.
“Kaming mga maliliit na mangingisda, wala kaming kapasidad para makipag-bargain sa mga traders kung anong gusto naming presyo ng aming huli,” Hicap said. “Pagdating kasi namin sa merkado, kami na ang nagtatanong kung magkano ang presyo nila sa mga nahuli naming isda.”
The DA earlier warned that inflation of food items could increase if the supply of raw fish products in the country would not increase. Last month, fish products were one of the biggest contributors to the increase in food prices, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), as it recorded a 10.2 percent inflation rate.
Fish Importation Woes
Local fish producers are already beginning to feel the effects of these imported fishes. The retail price of imported galunggong, for instance, is around P30 cheaper than locally-sourced ones, according to DA’s daily price monitoring of major Metro Manila public markets.
For Hicap, imported fish is cheaper simply because it is no longer fresh. “Napakarami nang karanasan na karamihang ini-import na isda ay ginagamitan ng mga kemikal. Kaya hindi na dapat yan pagkain ng tao, dapat diyan, fish meal na lang, pagkain na lang para sa hayop.”
In 2018, the Department of Health warned consumers of imported galunggong after Pamalakaya reported that 17,000 metric tons of the fish from China were suspected of being contaminated with formalin, a chemical used for preserving cadavers.
But, despite such warnings from local fisherfolk, for the government, fish importation is here to stay. In fact, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) suggested that the country import at least 200,000 metric tons of raw fish, beginning this month until March 2022. NEDA said that importation is part of the government’s “proactive monitoring” to ensure sufficient fish supply and stable prices.
Should the plan push through, the government will import at least 140,000 metric tons by January next year—more than double the quota approved last August.
The DA did not disclose the extent of the expected fish shortage. But it cited the six-month fishing ban, which began this month, as the reason for the projected shortfall. Such fishing bans are annually implemented across select fishing grounds in the country to give time for the marine life to repopulate.
Big-Ticket Traders Favored
Hicap said that the government always resorts to importation whenever fish prices increase, or a shortage of supply is projected. Importation completely misses the local fishing sector’s long-standing problems, and nor does it lower food inflation which it supposedly seeks to fix, he added.
For one, he lamented that even before importation began, small fisherfolk were not able to control the farmgate prices of their catch upon delivery to markets and fishing ports.
“Ang nagtatakda ng presyo ng huli namin ay yung mga traders, hindi kaming mga mangingisda,” he said, noting that the increase in fish prices ultimately rests on the hands of big-ticket fish traders. “Kung anong fixed price ng traders, yun ang masusunod.”
Pamalakaya has long called for the abolition of the consignment system, in which middlemen and private traders have the prerogative to push up the retail prices of local fishers’ catch to roughly four times higher than the farmgate prices. As an alternative, Hicap suggested the creation of cooperatives that would manage fish ports. In this way, fisherfolk would regain control over the pricing of their catch and can stabilize retail prices.
Commercial Fishers to Blame
The government’s need to reduce the price of basic commodities should not be done at the expense of local fisherfolk, Hicap argued. Importation, he said, simply pits the local fisherfolk’s demand for the control of the pricing of their catch and Filipinos’ need for cheaper food items.
It is not just on the distribution side that traders have significant control. In terms of supply, commercial fishing operations amassed 272,240 metric tons of marine products, compared to the measly 45,490 metric tons caught by inland municipal fishing operations in the second quarter of 2021, per data from the PSA.
The DA’s importation program would put small fisherfolk at an even greater disadvantage. All of the 22 firms that are allowed to import fishes to the country are commercial fishers, according to Karlo Adriano, a professor of economics at the Ateneo de Manila University and a resource person for the DA.
Violators of the government-imposed fishing ban, too, are mostly large fishing expeditions. A report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism in August revealed that commercial fishers regularly enter prohibited fishing areas, including those reserved for municipal fishers. The report noted that, owing to the differing implementation of fishing rules across the country, violators often go unpunished.
In addition, a bill is currently pending in Congress to allow commercial fishers to enter municipal waters. Gloria Ramos, president of the environmental group Oceana, criticized the proposed law as it would allow big fishers to decimate fishing grounds reserved for small fisherfolk.
Production Subsidy, Sustainability Sought
Given the problems experienced by the local fishing industry, it should be all the more important that the government extends help, said Hicap. For one, the state may consider giving direct aid to fisherfolk and production subsidies to offset losses due to the rise in production costs, primarily gasoline.
Last year, peasant groups supported the Makabayan bloc-authored SHIELD Bill which sought to dole out a one-time production subsidy for every peasant worth P15,000, as well as an additional option for a P25,000 loan for small farmers and fisherfolk.
Without any substantial aid, fisherfolk would be forced to make do with their outdated fishing equipment. “Maoobliga kaming ibenta yan (isda) kasi wala kaming abilidad para, halimbawa, i-cannery nang ma-preserve yung isda. Ang gamit ng mga mangingisda ay tradisyunal at yelo lang ang dala-dala niyan,” he said, adding that fisherfolk would then be forced to sell their catch at such a low price just to avoid spoilage.
Policies, likewise, must also be geared towards making the country’s fishing grounds more sustainable, Hicap said. The government must stop reclamation and conversion projects, for example, to maintain marine life and the surrounding environment. “Kung sinsero talaga ang gobyerno na lutasin itong kakulangan ng [isda], itigil na nila yung mga proyekto tulad ng reklamasyon sa mga baybaying dagat,” Hicap said.
While fisherfolk continue to lobby DA and other government agencies to heed their demands, Hicap said that consumers should be prepared to boycott imported fish products once they enter local markets. The government’s importation scheme on fish products is expected to begin this month.
“Hindi talaga nakikinig ang ating gobyerno doon sa panawagan nating maliliit na mangingisda na hindi solusyon sa kakulangan ng suplay ng isda natin yung importation,” Hicap said. “Kailangan lang talagang mag-boykot para maramdaman ng gobyerno natin na mali yung kanilang patakaran.”
Ultimately, it is through the combination of better and pro-local fisherfolk policies and a sustainable pathway to fishing that the country can resolve its food insecurity, Hicap stressed.
“Nalalagay sa alanganin ang ating lokal na industriyang pangisdaan dahil inaasa na natin yung pangangailangan ng mamamayang Pilipino o yung kakulangan ng suplay, doon sa importation,” Hicap said. “Hindi pagtulong sa food security o pagiging sustenable ng ating pangisdaan ang importasyon.” ●
Feb 28, 2024
With the NPU Bill striving to privatize and commercialize PUP, student leaders assert budget increase to the university and academic freedom.
Feb 28, 2024
NUPL-Cebu called for an investigation into the nature of the death of Bilar 5, adding that they have received reports of possible violations of the International Humanitarian Law.