Timely Help for our Fishermen
The concern shown by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for our fishermen last week made me emotional and nostalgic about my early childhood. His plan to put up nearly a dozen cold storage facilities in several parts of the nation to reduce the high spoilage in the catch of Filipino fishermen is very timely. It is a shot in the arm that our fishermen need in this high inflationary regime.
I can empathize with our hardworking fishermen. They sweat out and take risks in the open sea to provide their family with a decent meal and eke out a living amid the punishing weather. I was once in the middle of the food chain of fish production and marketing. At the age of six, I helped my mother in selling shrimp and fish at the Divisoria Public Market to earn money and support my siblings and myself to school.
My job at a tender age is not easy—I worked hard at the fish market in between classes. But my job paled in comparison with the plight of our fishermen, who work at the mercy of the seas and nature—and with no guaranteed profits.
But for our Filipino fishermen, the storm is about to ease off. President Marcos’ plan to build 11 more cold storage facilities on top of those already being constructed at ports in the cities of General Santos and Cagayan de Oro will go a long way in improving the fishermen’s meager income. Per the report of Malacañang, the facilities will be operational by the end of the year.
Our chief executive and agriculture secretary is taking a hands-on approach in providing solutions to the problems of the agriculture sector. He presided over a sectoral meeting attended by officials of the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Laguna Lake Development Authority, Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Cooperative Development Authority. He noted the high rate of fish spoilage from the fishing boats up to the ports and the markets.
Mr. Marcos is a fast learner. He called last week’s meeting to discuss the Philippine Fisheries Program, specifically on how to address the declining fishery production and reduce post-harvest losses.
“The solution we formulated,” says Mr. Marcos, “is to create cold storage facilities there at the fish ports so that we can preserve the fish and so that it will not just be thrown out due to spoilage.”
The lack of post-harvest facilities in the Philippines results in the wastage of some fish harvests, as well as in crops like rice and vegetables. With a shortage of post-harvest equipment such as blast freezers, ice-making machines, cold storage warehouses and fish landing sites, estimated fish spoilage in the Philippines is between 25 percent and 40 percent. Per official estimates, the Philippines may no longer have to import fish if the nation can reduce fish spoilage by 8 percent to 10 percent.
The need to modernize the country’s fishponds to boost aquaculture production also did not escape the eyes of our chief executive. The lack of bank credits to fishpond operators for modern equipment appears to be stalling the development of this sector.
Last week’s sectoral meeting also highlighted the need to bolster the nation’s food security and fish output through marine farming, or mariculture. This refers to a specialized branch of aquaculture involving the cultivation or culture of marine life, such as prawns, oysters and mullets in enclosed sections of the open ocean.
The Philippines, perhaps, can take a look at the Thailand aquaculture model. The Thai fishing industry exports over $6 billion worth of products yearly and employs more than 800,000 people. It is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter and the world’s leading exporter of shrimp.
Vietnam is another emerging powerhouse in aquaculture production. Its aquaculture output in 2022 reached 5.1 million tons, or up 6.3 percent over 2021. Vietnam’s seafood exports of pangasius, black tiger shrimp and whiteleg shrimp jumped to a record $11 billion in 2022.
The Philippines surely can surpass the fish production of our two Southeast Asian neighbors. We are an archipelago of 7,641 islands, and have a marine water area and coastlines that are much bigger than those of Thailand and Vietnam. It is not too late to catch up and make the Philippine economic growth more inclusive and relevant to our fishermen.