Seafood is one of the favorite sources of protein for Filipinos. The Philippine Statistics Authority has declared that fish is the second staple food in the country after rice. On average, the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center has estimated that the average per capita consumption of fish and fish products in the Philippines is 40 kilograms per year or 109 grams per day.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted that Filipinos generally prefer brackish water or marine fish to freshwater fish. This would explain the popularity of fish species such as the round scad or galunggong, which was once the cheapest fish available to Filipinos. As the country’s population increases, the demand for brackish water fish species also increases, which has led to a rapid depletion of our fish stocks.
The government has put in place a number of measures to prevent the depletion of the country’s marine resources. These include the implementation of the so-called closed fishing season for galunggongwhich allows stocks to rejuvenate (See “BFAR: Closure of the “galunggong” fishing season begins to bear fruit”, in the business mirror, November 3, 2021), and the introduction of policies to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The declaration of closure of the fishing season for galunggongin particular, has somehow allowed fishermen to increase their catches, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
The interruption of this closed fishing season to increase the supply of galunggong, however, would do more harm than good. Allowing fishermen to catch round fish all year round would undoubtedly increase supply in the short term, but it would accelerate the depletion of the country’s resource. galunggong stocks and makes us more dependent on imports to increase our food supply.
While importing the Philippines’ favorite fish was unheard of two decades ago, the reality is that our own resources can no longer meet the country’s growing food needs. Food production must keep pace with population growth if the Philippines is to wean itself off imported food. And this is only possible if the government and citizens are prepared to bear the temporary pain caused by conservation measures.
As sustainable practices will take time to bear fruit, they must be complemented by other initiatives. On the one hand, the government must promote the consumption of freshwater fish species and encourage the farming of other marine animals, such as shrimp. Besides increasing production, government needs to help shrimp farmers deal with diseases and high cost of inputs (See, “Shrimp production fell to 60,000 MT”, in the BusinessMirrorNovember 10, 2021).
To protect the country’s coastline and combat IUU fishing, the government should seriously consider increasing its investment in improving the capacity of agencies tasked with apprehending illegal fishers. Protecting our coastline requires investments in surveillance and intelligence, including the latest technologies and vessels. These initiatives must be put in place to enable fisheries, which supported the performance of the agricultural sector in previous years, to contribute significantly to food production. This is an effective way to strengthen the country’s food security.