The Philippine government will import 60,000 metric tonnes of small pelagic fishes such as round scad (galunggong) and mackerel to cover part of an expected shortage in local supply in the first quarter of 2022, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said at the Laging Handa public briefing on January 18.
Pelagic fish, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, got their name from the area that they inhabit called the pelagic zone. It is the largest marine habitat on earth accounting for about a fourth of the total world fisheries catch annually.
Dar said that he had signed on January 10 the required Certificate of Necessity to Import (CNI) because local supply has yet to normalise from the devastation caused by Typhoon Odette (international name Rai) on many fishing areas late last year.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) said in its latest bulletin that the typhoon’s impact on the farm sector already exceeded 13 billion pesos ($252 million). The fisheries sub-sector suffered the most with 3.97 billion pesos in losses.
“They are the number one sub-sector of agriculture badly hit during Typhoon Odette. The capacity of our fishers to catch will be in question. You have to enhance their capacities,” he added.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has projected a fish supply shortfall of 119,000 tonnes in the first quarter, prompting the move to import to keep supply and selling prices in wet markets stable.
“At the end of the day, we take responsibility in terms of ensuring food security,” Dar said.
The DA also tasked its attached agencies, BFAR and the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority (PFDA), to deliver imported galunggong or round scads from cold storages to address the current deficit in fish supply.
“I have directed [them] to see to it that these imported galunggong [round scad] reach the wet markets because that’s the very reason why we are bringing additional supply augmentation,” he said.
“So, [BFAR] has the power to open up these cold warehouses and see to it that these are brought to the wet markets,” he added.
Dar said the DA was also enhancing the production of the aquaculture sector to close gaps in fish production and sustainably improve fish catch.
He stressed that this was “a balancing act being done by the department to ensure food security in the whole country.”
The government, through PFDA and BFAR, has yet to set a date for the opening of applications covering the new import volume for qualified importers under the DA’s Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 259, which was issued in 2018 to set the rules and regulations on the importation of frozen fish and aquatic products for wet markets during closed and off-fishing seasons or calamities.
Importations have been made necessary by the annual ban on fishing in traditional grounds of local fishermen to allow fish species to spawn and recover.
PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK