(File photo) 

MANILA – Municipal fishermen, fishpond owners, fish-food producers, and other stakeholders on Tuesday lauded President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s pronouncement of a need to increase fisheries and aquatic sector production to achieve food security for all Filipinos.

In a media briefing, members of the food and livelihood advocacy group said this is the first time that a President of the Republic has repeatedly made statements on developing infrastructure and facilities to improve fishery production.

Last week, the President ordered the construction of fish ports in 11 coastal provinces.

“We are happy with the President’s focus on agriculture, including the fisheries and aquatic sector. This is a step in the right direction,” said Atty. Asis Perez, former national director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

“The next possible step is the creation of a technical working group with government and the private sector to craft and draft policies to ensure the development of the sector,” he added.

Norbert Chingcuangco, co-convenor of the advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan, added: “For the longest time, saling pusa lang kami sa BFAR, ang BFAR saling pusa sa DA (our concerns are barely heard by BFAR, and BFAR’s voice is barely heard by the DA). Now the President is putting importance on the fisheries and aquaculture sector.”

“This attention can be institutionalized in the (creation of) Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. This way, we can prevent what happened last time when the importation of vital ingredients to fish feeds was unceremoniously prohibited. Structural reform in the sector will address so many problems,” he noted.

In the same briefing, Tugon Kabuhayan member and municipal fishers’ group Dennis Calvan said policy reforms and strong government support are needed to address not only the oil spill but also the illegal fishing that adversely affects the income of about 2 million registered municipal fishermen.

“We should look at municipal fishing, commercial fishing, and aquaculture as a whole and not as different sectors. All provide food for the country. The government should give support to our municipal fishermen because they are the backbone of our industry,” said Calvan, of the Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama (Panagat) Network.

“We ask President Marcos to address the issue of illegal fishing which causes annual losses of about 257,000-402,000 tons valued between PHP24-37 billion for our fishermen,” he added.

Calvan also proposed to strengthen the fish landing centers. “We have some freezers available in our fish landing sites, but having cold storage facilities and ice plants would greatly help our fishermen sell all their catch at the wet markets,” he said.

The group also proposed other reforms for a self-sustaining fisheries and aquaculture sector — long-term permits for sea cages for bangus (milkfish) and tilapia which are now renewed every year, and improvement throughout the value chain from hatchery to nursery to growing to storage.

Christopher Co, Vice-President of Oversea Feeds Corporation, said continuing fishpond lease agreements (FLAs) will make for continuous production.

“It is more logical, especially for hatcheries, because we need a constant supply of fingerlings. Without hatcheries, our target of production cannot be met and President BBM’s goal for a food-secure Philippines would be hard to meet. The processors have so many permits required from them that it is so cumbersome and discourages people to undertake such an endeavor. We need to review the rules,” he said.

“The industry has so much potential and so much we can achieve if we can get government support. We can provide food on the table for every Filipino, but this needs to be done through local production. If we have enough local supply, then prices would go down. Local production is the answer to keeping prices stable. Importing our fish will only make the prices go up,” he added. (PNA)