The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) came under fire Tuesday for banning the sale of frozen imported pink salmon and pompano in wet markets.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Animal Industry said Tuesday there might be a slight shortage of domestic supply of pork late this year amid the ongoing threat of African Swine Fever—only a week before the rush of shopping for the Christmas holidays.
In an interview on ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo, BFAR chief information officer Nazario Briguera said the bureau will seize imported pompano and pink salmon sold in wet markets starting Dec. 4 to protect the local fishing industry.
The bureau’s spokesman said the ban was based on the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and an administrative order issued in 1999, which governs the importation of fresh, chilled, or frozen fish for institutional buyers.
Briguera said disposal reports issued by importers are inaccurate, which led to the diversion of imported fish to wet markets. He added BFAR seeks to ensure that products sold in wet markets are legitimate and have proper documentation.
“These are smuggled and did not undergo proper documentation,” he said.
As for the BAI, supervising science research specialist Lani Plata Cerna said during the Laging Handa briefing: “We might have a slight shortage of pork… we are at 95 percent sufficiency level,” citing supply data outlook from the Department of Agriculture as of October.
Despite the drop in supply, the Philippines is expected to have sufficient meat supply during the holiday season, she said, giving assurances any shortage would come from pork imported from the US and Denmark.
“We have enough supply,” Cerna said, amid concerns of increased demand during the Christmas Season.
She also said there is enough supply of eggs during Christmas as demand is anticipated to increase for bread, cakes, and pastries.
“Based on the egg supply outlook, we will have enough egg supply towards the end of the year where we will have a 112-percent sufficiency level,” Cerna said.
But Senator Raffy Tulfo said he smelled something fishy and demanded to know the real reasons behind the ban on the sale of pompano and pink salmon.
In a privilege speech, Tulfo pressed BFAR for the basis of its prohibition, saying he was unconvinced by the agency’s explanation.
He said while the administrative order is about the importation of fish, the implementation targets small and poor vendors in the markets.
He said BFAR’s campaign should be waged in ports in coordination with the Bureau of Customs.
“Why are they making a show at wet markets with these fish vendors? They only bought these fish, they were not importers,” Tulfo said.
Under the Fisheries Administrative Order No. 195, institutional buyers like hotels and restaurants were included from those allowed to import without the need to for a certification of the necessity to import or CNI.
“The rich owners of restaurants and hotels can import these fishes, but the poor were not allowed,” Tulfo said, saying this was a violation of the constitutional equal protection under the law.
He said BFAR has gone beyond the provisions of the law.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., meanwhile, sought a congressional investigation into the BFAR’s latest move to determine if there was a violation of the Constitution against local fish vendors.
He also said he wanted to determine if present regulations only encourage smuggling, graft and corruption that does not protect the public, the environment, and promote the general welfare.
Braganza, who heads the House committee on the environment, said there is a need to investigate the ongoing crackdown to examine if BFAR is correct in claiming that the move was based on the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and Fisheries Administrative Order 195.
BFAR says the sale of imported pompano and pink salmon in wet markets is prohibited under
Fisheries Administrative Order 195, as these are only for canning, processing, and institutional buyers like hotels and restaurants.
The agency claimed that pompano and pink salmon are not included in the Certificate of Necessity to Import (CNI) issued in November, which listed imported fish products that can be sold in wet markets.