Fish and inflation

A former fishery official confided that our municipal fishing grounds are 15 kilometers from the shore.

Finally, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has made an initial move giving hope the Department of Agriculture or DA is now leading toward some solution to the growing threats of a food shortage.

He has issued a directive that calls for the construction of 11 fish ports in strategic coastal areas in the country.

The agenda is to address the “challenges faced by the fisherfolk.”

That’s what we see on the surface, but something tells me the high cost of food commodities, onions, sugar, imported and smuggled, and the runaway price of fish is inflationary and had worried the President.

For a country surrounded by rich fishing grounds, we heard for the first time that the lowly galunggong, which cost P12/kilo during the real Macoy era in the 1970s and rose to P26/kilo during Cory’s time, is now being imported and sold in the market at P260/kilo when the suggested retail price is only P150 to P160.

We imported 25,000 tons of galunggong or blue mackerel last December and thereafter, but the government did not impose a suggested retail price or SRP. Given the predilection of government advisers to address food shortages through importation but then allowing these to be sold at skyrocketing prices has put us in a situation where inflation upticks.

PBBM’s directive to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to construct fish ports and ice-making machines is a faint light at the end of the tunnel.

Government propagandists flaunt it as a measure that would “capacitate and empower fisherfolk towards resiliency, decrease post-harvest losses through upgrading/fixing/constructing cold storage facilities at fish ports across the country.” Nice words. Now let us see how that order will translate to reality.

Maybe it will help PBBM and BFAR to look at Davao and Sarangani and see how private entrepreneurs do what they wish to be done.

Domingo Ang of Davao’s Marina Tuna, on his own, fabricated 10 tuna boats that make up his fishing fleet and which are equipped with radar, fish finders, satellite-based radio navigation systems, and super flood lights to attract fish one kilometer away. The boats are also designed for galunggong.

Since he is at it, maybe PBBM should look at our fishery law. A former fishery official confided to us that our municipal fishing grounds are 15 kilometers from shore. These are very rich fishing areas that are ironically untapped because BFAR allows only 3-gross tonnage boats to operate. On the other hand, commercial operators are not allowed to fish in municipal waters where galunggong mostly thrives. The joke is that the galunggong is dying of old age.

I talked to Ang about this ironic implementation of our fishery law and asked him what could be done about it. He said that PBBM is moving in the right direction but there are basic priorities that he suggests the President may consider, namely:

(1) Upgrade and modernize fishing boats to at least 30 gross tons capacity so these could be equipped with chillers to address post-harvest losses;

(2) Allow commercial operators to fish 10 km from the shore of the mainland and not from the islands; and

(3) Increase cold storage facilities at fish ports which should be operated by the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority.

Ang also suggested that government subsidize the storage fees at the PFDA compound where imported fish during the off-fishing season should be stored. This, he explained, would deter importers from hoarding and manipulating prices outside of the suggested retail prices. Frozen imported fish should be sold in groceries and Kadiwa stores to stabilize prices.

I just thought it might be a wise move for PBBM to get Ang on board as a director of PFDA.

On matters of aquaculture, the President may take a look at the Alcantara -run complex in Sarangani. The Alcantaras have been raising and exporting not only the iconic Saranggani bangus but also pompano, sea bass, and giant tilapia.

With all our marine and aquatic resources, there is no reason for us to be constantly short of fish, the price of which is now beyond what many families can afford. One more stroke of the presidential pen can immediately address the shortage since schools of fish are out there waiting for the fishermen’s nets. Then maybe in the process, we can shed off some inflation digits.

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