POSTSCRIPT / August 21, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Importing fish: Sign of mismanagement

WE’VE gotten used to massive rice importation by the ruling party to raise funds before an election, but to see our archipelago that is blessed with abundant fishery resources now importing fish is just too much.

The excuse given by the administration for deciding to import 17,000 metric tons of galunggong (round scad) from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 is to stabilize the price of that popular species that is now supposedly in short supply.

Emergency importation has been the quick answer of lazy, or incompetent, administrators confronted with the supply/price issue over critical food items. Importation would have been unnecessary if food managers were alert and proactive.

A drop in the supply of something like fish in this country does not suddenly happen, like a wildfire rousing one from his sleep. The signs that the breeding places of popular species are being degraded, for instance, are all there for even untrained eyes to see.

To justify the importation of fish, the administration focused on galunggong, which has displaced tuyo (dried fish) as the poor man’s fare to go with rice. It has become a sort of economic indicator so presidents have tried to stabilize its price.

The per-kilo price of galunggong was P60-P80 during the term of Erap Estrada, going up to P100 during the administration of Gloria Arroyo, and continued to creep up.

Yesterday at the Pagasa QC public market near our place behind SM City North, galunggong was selling at P180/kilo (versus the pre-TRAIN price of P140). Consumers either shifted to other species or bought less. Other prices were: tilapia, P120; bangus, P180; mayamaya, P380; sapsap, P300; tuna, P380; salmon, P380; and talakitok, P360.

But the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that while the supply of galunggong dipped in the second quarter this year, overall fisheries yield went up by 16 percent, a food for thought that the agriculture department might want to digest.

In other words, if demand or taste for galunggong were shifted to other species of marine and freshwater fishes, the price pressure on it could have been minimized. But the administration was in a hurry to import, which is not only easier but also more profitable.

 Why importation is a favorite escape

THE MINDSET of some managers of the food supply should be reformed. In the case of rice, for instance, every time elections approach, there is a scramble for importation – instead of following a set methodical program for ensuring rice self-sufficiency.

The National Food Authority, with its stock representing no more than 10 percent of the total supply of rice hoarded nationwide, cannot influence pricing. But it continues to pretend to manage the supply chain despite the many loopholes.

The usual racketeers salivate with every prospect of importation, which is usually rushed before an election. Millions are reportedly made at every stage, from the bidding or negotiation with suppliers, the granting of import licenses to farmers’ groups that have neither sufficient members nor funds for importation (and who then sell the papers to a financier), to picking the shipping line and the insurance firm, the diverting of the stock to the cartel that will re-bag the rice, et cetera down the line, until it reaches the consumer who must absorb the cost of corruption.

In the case of fisheries and aquatic resources, the tragedy is that the protection and conservation of spawning areas and fishing grounds have been generally neglected, resulting in dwindling catch in the traditional grounds.

This has forced fishermen, including sustenance fisherfolk, to go farther out to sea or look for alternative areas, which is a crazy thing to do when the government itself is not interested or supportive enough.

(It is high time President Duterte insisted to his best friends in Beijing to please allow naman Filipinos to cast their nets at Panatag (Scarborough) shoal which has been their fishing ground for generations. Why is he afraid to plead for the displaced fishermen?)

As for the decline in the harvest of galunggong – which should have been anticipated not last year but 10 or so years ago – consumers should have been prepared also to try other species of marine and freshwater fish of which we have plenty.

Generations of Filipinos have grown up thinking that Nature has been good to them and that its bounty is inexhaustible – and can take any and all abuses.

The government should have anticipated the shifting in the supply or abundance of various species and prepared consumers for it. Fortunately, even without prodding, housewives simply buy other kinds of fish when their preference turns out to be costly.

Agriculture and food officials may want to review the report of the Philippine Statistics Authority that in the second quarter of 2018, total fisheries production was some 1.13 million metric tons with a POSITIVE growth of 2.64 percent from its previous year’s mark.

Of three subsectors, commercial fisheries and aquaculture pulled up overall output, although the municipal fisheries subsector’s production went down – which was to be expected considering how inland waters have been abused and polluted.

Of the major species, bigger harvests were recorded for tilapia, skipjack and seaweed with 0.15, 0.51 and 2.28 percent, respectively.  However, there were reductions for milkfish (0.34 percent), tiger prawn (0.05 percent), round scad (0.32 percent) and yellowfin tuna (0.06 percent).

Commercial fisheries recorded a harvest of 287.68 thousand metric tons, 2.27 percent more than a year ago. The increase was attributed to more unloading of skipjack for canneries in General Santos City Fish Port in SOCCSKSARGEN. Bigger landings were reported in the Navotas Fish Port.

But it was a sad story for municipal fisheries, which registered a 2.46 percent decline in production. Harvests from aquaculture farms were recorded at 550.01 thousand metric tons which indicated a 5.81 percent increase for the second quarter.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 21, 2018)

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