Fisheries sector requires immediate support
The fisheries sector, composed of capture fisheries and aquaculture production, requires immediate support. For this year’s second quarter alone, fish production declined by 14.2 percent.
Consider these inconvenient facts: In 2022, this sector contributed 12 percent to agriculture gross value added (GVA). But based on the Department of Agriculture (DA) budget being discussed by Congress today, this sector was allocated only 6 percent of the purse: P7.1 billion for the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and P4.9 billion for the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority.
It should get at least a 12-percent budget share, equal to its contribution to agriculture GVA. Why? With an adequate budget, this sector could be tapped for its huge potential in food security, poverty alleviation and foreign exchange earnings.
We have the second longest coastline among Asean countries and China. Our 36,300 kilometers (km) far exceeds the next two longest coastlines, China’s with 14,500 km and Malaysia’s 4,700 km.
We have 2.2 million registered municipal fishers—but they constitute the poorest sector in our country with a high 30-percent poverty incidence rate.
In 2022, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, aquaculture produced 2.3 million metric tons (MMT) while fisheries produced a little less at 2 MMT. The latter was divided between municipal and commercial fishers, at 1.1 MMT and 0.9 MMT, respectively.
Relevant issues were discussed during the Sept. 20 press conference of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. (PCAFI), led by group president Danilo Fausto and Feedmix Specialist Inc. vice president Norbert Chingcuanco.
Commercial production is lower largely because fishing nets with smaller holes are being used. Thus, smaller fishes, used for further breeding, are also caught.
The issue can also be political, with regulations in place allowing commercial fishing only beyond 15 kilometers from the coastline. The previously used science-based criterion of ocean depth should determine which areas should be reserved only for municipal fishers.
Very often, fishers cannot go beyond 5 km because of factors such as boat size, fuel capacity and ice supply. Fish found between 5 to 15 km from the coastline are not caught. This deprives our people of food for their nutrition. Fishers should be provided access to that small stretch from the coastline.
This is an area that shows great promise, only if it is adequately funded and managed well.
Because we lack hatcheries, we import 70 percent of our fingerlings. Hatcheries are where fishes are spawned until they are large enough to be transferred to a farm or released into the wild.
Chingcuanco identified a very profitable initiative that should be supported: fish cages.
A fish cage with a diameter of 18 meters (254 square meters) can produce 50 tons per year. Five cages in one hectare can therefore produce 250 tons a year while employing 10 people. This highly productive venture can be done in remote areas where poverty is high because it does not need electricity or big infrastructure.
With the appropriate budget support, local government units can play a critical role in initiatives through: (1) proper zoning and site exclusivity per company or group; (2) long-term permits to encourage long-term investments; (3) prioritization of communities for employment (4) strict adherence to safety and labor standards; and (5) community access to fish production projects.
During the well-publicized and recorded interviews of the then presidential candidates last year, they all agreed in principle to 12 strategic recommendations from five agriculture organizations. In general, all committed to supporting our neglected fisheries sector and even considered a separate department for it.
At the very least, Congress should significantly increase the fisheries budget for 2024. Of course, this should be done only if a realistic and innovative plan with timetables and accountable targets go along with it. INQ