Villar to DA: Shorten fishing ban to prevent imports

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Villar to DA: Shorten fishing ban to prevent imports
Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food, issued the statement during the panel’s hearing on bills seeking to create 11 new fish hatcheries in various parts of the country that are supposed to be put up by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) should shorten the fishing ban enforced in many parts of the country to prevent the need to import fish, Sen. Cynthia Villar said yesterday.

Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food, issued the statement during the panel’s hearing on bills seeking to create 11 new fish hatcheries in various parts of the country that are supposed to be put up by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

She expressed dismay that the BFAR, which is under the DA, has failed to put up a single hatchery out of the 37 mandated hatcheries funded by Congress since 2016.

She voiced fears that the same fate would meet the 11 additional hatcheries proposed in the Senate even if they would be approved.

Villar said various fishing organizations and stakeholders met and agreed to press the DA to hold off its plan to import 60,000 metric tons of galunggong (round scad) or at least greatly reduce its volume.

“But the DA went ahead with the importation and did not listen to the various association of fisherfolk. It appears that they (DA) listen to importers instead of the fisherfolk…so what they did is questionable,” she said at the hearing.

She said if the DA’s reason for importation was the destruction left by Typhoon Odette last year, then it should lift the fishing ban while extending aid to small fisherfolk instead of having importers profit from the situation.

She noted that Palawan, where a fishing ban is currently enforced, is a major source of the country’s galunggong supply.

She said the closed season conservation initiative “may be lifted faced with the Typhoon Odette impact.”

“The fishing ban does not apply to fishing by marginal fisherfolk but to commercial fishing and the fishing gears being used,” Villar said.

“My advocacy has always been poverty reduction and poverty is very high among small farmers and small fishermen. So, I help the small farmers and fisherfolk. We’re not in government to help the rich… so I’m surprised that their (DA) first move is importation,” the senator said.

She said the DA and the BFAR could start with providing boats to fishermen whose equipment were destroyed by the typhoon and putting up hatcheries, which could have been developed, improved fish supply and prevented the need for imports.

Villar lamented that since the current crop of officials in DA and BFAR, led by retired commodore Eduardo Gongona, assumed office in the last few years, the country’s fish catch began to decline.

She also noted that BFAR’s budget of P6 billion was not felt by the fisherfolk in terms of support and assistance to make them more productive.

Sen. Manny Pacquiao earlier criticized the DA’s failure to do its job following reports of importing tons of fish when the country should have been the exporter.

“This is unbelievable. Where in the world can you see a country that is surrounded by large bodies of water but has to import fish from other countries? We should be the one exporting fish, specifically round scad and mackerel. We have lots of that,” Pacquiao, a presidential aspirant, said.

Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda also expressed her disapproval over the DA’s planned importation of 60,000 metric tons of fish in the first quarter of the year.

Legarda noted the public outcry and allegations that the DA needs to address importation as there is sufficient fish supply.

“We risk further marginalizing many of our small-scale fishers and coastal communities who are already vulnerable to a myriad of social and environmental changes. These policy decisions that tend to further bring down our most marginalized sectors must be based on evidence. Merely blaming Odette and not comparing other measures like faster provision of small boats and safety nets for the marginalized is not convincing.”

The DA earlier said the country needed more than 800,000 MT of fish to meet the demand for January to March 2022. The importation was supposedly aimed at stabilizing supply and keep prices in the wet markets from rising.

One of the reasons cited for the possible increase in fish prices was the onslaught of Typhoon Odette (Rai) which caused P3.97 billion in damage and affected numerous coastal and fishing communities.

Additionally, there is the closed fishing season implemented by the BFAR every year in major fishing areas to allow fish species to spawn and recover.

Legarda pointed out that the Philippine archipelago is still rich in resources.

“Instead of prioritizing band-aid solutions that help importers and big traders but are harmful to the entire industry in the long-term, we must craft policies and spending that uplifts the poor and ensures food security for all in the long term,” she said.

“I urge the government and the private sector, to rapidly mobilize and implement support mechanisms for small-scale fishers, coastal fishing communities and associated people’s organizations,” she added.

“Our fishers in the coastal villages face a range of environmental challenges due to coastal erosion, mangrove destruction, the endangered species trade and, most seriously, overfishing,” she said.

Meanwhile, fishery stakeholders, including officers of the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (NFARMC), said there is no need to import fish, emphasizing the low utilization of the previously issued certificates of necessity to import (CNI).

In a virtual forum organized by Tugon Kabuhayan yesterday, several fishery groups maintained that there is no need for the DA to issue another 60,000 MT of CNIs since there are still available fish for the first quarter due to low utilization of the previous CNI.

The DA earlier issued 60,000 MT of CNIS for small pelagic fish in the fourth quarter of 2021 to augment supply during the closed fishing season.

Based on NFARMC Resolution No. 3 Series of 2022, out of the previously issued CNI volume, 12,023 MT of fish are still in transit, 22,613 MT are in cold storage, while there is an 11,015 MT remaining CNI volume for a total volume on-stock equivalent to 45,651 MT as of Jan. 13, 2022.

Despite the pronouncement of the NFARMC that the country has enough supply for the quarter, Agriculture Secretary William Dar approved the 60,000 MT CNI volume of small pelagic fishes for the first quarter.

In a related development, UniTeam senatorial candidate Harry Roque said yesterday that he would push for a law that would ensure food ability, stability and adequacy for Filipinos suffering from hunger and undernutrition.

If elected, Roque said he would refile a bill creating the Commission on the Right to Adequate Food to achieve “zero hunger.”

Roque filed the proposed measure when he was still a Kabayan party-list representative in the 17th Congress.

The bill seeks to determine the standards on the minimum amount of food to be given to any person suffering from hunger or undernutrition; provide physical and economic access to food, and set up a well-functioning distribution, processing and market system.

A survey of Social Weather Stations released on Dec. 6, 2021, showed that about 10 percent of families, or an estimated 2.5 million Filipinos, experienced involuntary hunger, described as hunger due to lack of food to eat, at least once in three months. – Delon Porcalla, Jose Rodel Clapano, Catherine Talavera, Cecille Suerte Felipe




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