The AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People calls on the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) to immediately halt its plan on importing 17,000 metric tons (MT) of round scad (galunggong) this upcoming closed season. The said plan only addresses the short-term problem on fish shortage, and not the chronic problem of the entire fisheries sector. It will also kill the livelihood of municipal fisherfolks as DA plans to institutionalize importation which will mostly benefit large fish companies and suppliers.

The announcement made by DA-BFAR was in line with the upcoming closed season, which prohibits fishing operations from November to March. However, the importation will start this September, two months prior to the start of the closed season. The announcement drew flak from concerned organizations, and DA-BFAR immediately responded that the Philippines had been importing fish for years.

“While it is true that the Philippines had been importing fish, these were only used as raw materials for processed products such as canned fish. The current plan of the government is to import fish to be sold in local wet markets. Importing fish for direct consumption of Filipino households is problematic because dangerous chemicals such as formalin may have been added to prolong the fish’s shelf-life, aside from from the traditional freezing method. Formalin is a toxic, corrosive, non-food grade chemical commonly used as an embalming and specimen preservation agent,” said Raymund Fantonalgo, AGHAM Diliman’s resident fisheries consultant.

DA-BFAR’s plan is only a band-aid solution to the fish shortage, and refuses to acknowledge other more sustainable and science-informed conservation and management strategies. The agency also remains blind to the potential of the aquaculture sector in providing food security especially during closed season. Aquaculture lessens the reliance of consumers towards wild-caught fish, thus contributing to the conservation efforts.

However, production in aquaculture has become export-oriented, focusing more on export products, such as shrimp and crab, instead of milkfish and tilapia that are domestically consumed. The industry suffers due to the lack of supply of milkfish fry. Local hatcheries could not meet the demand of the industry, forcing us to import fry from Taiwan and Indonesia. Several government-owned hatcheries were transferred to the private sector due to the lack of budget to maintain their operations.

Last year, plans of creating more satellite hatcheries were announced, raising hopes of more stable milkfish fry supply. However, DA-BFAR faces an impending budget cut in 2019, threatening the sustainability of these upcoming projects.

AGHAM demands that the DA-BFAR focus more on the development of the different sub-sectors of fisheries (capture fisheries, aquaculture, post-harvest fisheries), and formulate more sustainable, pro-fisherfolk and pro-people means of addressing fish supply shortage.

“Sufficient support must be provided to the fisherfolk in the form of subsidies for fishing gears and boats, as well as post-harvest facilities, such as cold storage plants, in order to prevent post-harvest losses. Alternative livelihood must also be provided to them during monsoon and closed seasons. Support must also be given to small-scale fisherfolk in order to boost production of milkfish, tilapia and other potential species,” he added.

AGHAM calls on the government to fully assert our rights in our national territorial waters so that we can enjoy our own marine resources. We also demand the government to amend the provisions of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 (RA 8550), and make it into a pro-fisherfolk and pro-people law. Commercial fishing vessels should be completely banned from encroaching into municipal waters. These vessels are the number one violators of the law, employing active fishing gears in municipal waters that leads to rapid decrease in fish supply as well as destruction of habitats. The production in the municipal fisheries sub-sector had also been declining for years. What more would be left if we still continue to allow commercial vessels to operate in the said waters.

“Galunggong is not the only fish consumed in the Philippines. In fact, it still has a relatively higher production than other species. There are many attainable ways to address the shortage of fish supply during the closed season, and importation is not one of them. In order to achieve national food security, DA-BFAR should develop the entire fisheries sector. They should focus on developing our coastal and marine resources to primarily address domestic consumption as well as advancing the agricultural base of our fishery sector for economic development,” he ended.###


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