Local growers oppose planned fish importation

Local growers oppose planned fish importation

By Tracy Cabrera

WITH  more than 7,000 island and the Philippine Sea in the Western Pacific Ocean east-northeast of the archipelago occupying an estimated surface area of 5 million square kilometers, it’s only natural that we have a rich source of marine life—and this doesn’t include the ones we find inland in our lakes and rivers and other bodies of water—so why should we import fish?

Fish growers in Taal Lake in Batangas province have opposed this plan from government saying this could only stall the industry’s recovery from damage wrought by Taal Volcano’s eruption and the low market demand due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

And in Pampanga, tilapia growers are planning to present this week’s actual figures of an ‘oversupply’ to show government decision-makers that an importation at this time would be unnecessary.

Jon Juico, president of the Philippine Tilapia Stakeholders Association (PTSA), is confident that there is more than enough supply of tilapia.

He cited that the normal culture period of four to five months for tilapia had since been extended to seven to eight months. This means the reduced demand for the fish prompted farmers to keep their stocks in the pond or delay the harvest, he said.

But that did very little to lower the market price of galunggong, the PTSA president concluded.

In Luzon, the top three producers of cultured fish are the tilapia ponds in Pampanga province, the fish cages in Batangas and the fish pens in the Laguna Lake.

The Taal Lake Aquaculture Alliance Inc. (TLAAI) wrote Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) secretary Eduardo Gongona and Batangas governor Hermilando Mandanas over the weekend to ask the government to ‘reconsider’ its importation plan, given its possible ‘detrimental effects’ on aquaculture.

The alliance claims to have more than 3,000 members.

Actually, the BFAR recommended the importation specifically of round scad (galunggong) and mackerel to check the rising prices of fish in the market, but the growers said it would have a domino effect on other fish competitors, like tilapia and milk fish (bangus).

TLAAI spokesperson Mario Balazon said his group fears that it would suffer the same fate as that of palay farmers after recent imports of rice from Vietnam and Thailand pushed down the price of local produce to PhP12 to PhP15 per kilo.

“We are still recovering from the effects of the recent Taal Volcano eruption but we are on track to return to pre-eruption supply levels. In terms of demand, we have also felt lower demand due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and we still see a slow return to normal demand levels,” the alliance said in its letter.

Taal’s phreatic eruption in January damaged 30 percent of the fish cages in Taal Lake, which normally produced 120 to 150 tons of tilapia a day. Since the fish growers resumed operation, Batangas currently produces 100 tons a day, Balazon said.

The current farm-gate price of tilapia from Batangas is PhP85 to PhP90 per kilo while those from Pampanga, which supplies fish mainly to central and northern Luzon, is PhP68 to PhP70. Tilapia grown in Batangas, which uses feeds, grow larger in size (two to three pieces per kilo) than those from Pampanga (four to five pieces).

Juico said feed mills were already demanding payment for farmers’ loans.

In 2019, the government imported 45,000 metric tons of pelagic fish but that did very little to lower the market price of galunggong, the PTSA president concluded.

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