(PNA file photo)

MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday defended its decision to import fish despite opposition from fishers' group Pambansang Lakas ng Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), saying it is part of the government's balancing act to stabilize supply.

For Pamalakaya, importation may add a burden to local fishers, as it could reduce the value of locally-produced fish products, aggravating their struggle amid persistent crude price hikes.

However, in a phone patch interview, Agriculture spokesperson Assistant Secretary Noel Reyes argued the move was necessary considering the projected shortfall of 90,000 metric tons of fish for 2022.

“We’re balancing, we are doing a balancing act kasi maliit ang ating fish catch sa ating karagatan. Sinasabi nila na maraming isda, yes, pero ganun pa rin ang kakulangan sa ating infrastructures (...because we have low fish catch in our oceans. They are saying there’s a lot of fish, yes, but lapses in infrastructures remain),” he told the Philippine News Agency.

Reyes noted that besides low fish catch, the closed fishing seasons have also contributed to the insufficiency of supply.

Closed fishing seasons are effective in the Davao Gulf, Visayan Sea, Sulu Sea, and Northern Palawan, from June onwards, on varied timelines.

“I understand the market supply situation, why? Tumataas kasi kulang pa rin ang supply. Kapag marami ang supply lalo ‘pag summer, bababa ang presyo, pero lalo na ngayon (It’s increasing because the supply remains insufficient. During summer, the price will drop but) towards the rainy season na nga ‘tas may close fishing season pa, tataas ‘yan (prices will increase), that’s why the need [to import],” he said.

However, Reyes clarified that importation is not the mere solution and pointed out the need to advance the construction of infrastructures needed by local fishers, to help them increase fish catch.

“We’ll try to catch as much fish as possible, how? By providing our small fishermen the needed boats and assurances… Tuluy-tuloy po ang mga interventions ng DA (DA’s interventions are ongoing), through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, assurances, yes, we’re constructing bigger boats, 62-footer [boats],” he added.

These “big brother, small brother-kind-of-boats” are particularly constructed to aid municipal fishers.

The Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, urged the incoming administration to also put a premium on the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to increase the supply of fish.

“Yan po dapat magamit ‘yung mga malalaking dams natin into fish cage culture, ‘yan po ang dapat i-address ng incoming administration, at bigyan ng pondo ang BFAR, syempre po ang DA muna, ang NIA (Our big dams should be utilized for fish cage culture, this should be addressed by the incoming administration, and BFAR should be given fund, the DA first, as well as the NIA [National Irrigation Authority]),” he said. (PNA)