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Saturday, July 13, 2024

DA allays fears of fish shortage

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Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel assured canners, retailers and consumers of sustained availability of pelagic fish in the local market despite an order freezing the issuance of import permits for the said fish.

Laurel also downplayed claims that the impending import ban against frozen round scad (galunggong), bonito (tulingan) and mackerel (alumahan) would undermine production of canned fish, particularly mackerel.

Under Memorandum Order 14, the suspension of issuance of import permits effectively bans importation of the aforementioned three species of fish.

“The problem is diversion. If they imported mackerel and diverted it to the wet markets, they will fall short [of their required supply],” Laurel said, adding that around 100,000 metric tons (MT) of the pelagic fish find their way to wet markets yearly.

The memo indefinitely suspended the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) import clearances for the three pelagic species will prevent diversion of the imported fish to wet markets, he added.

The memo clearly stated that importation of mackerel for canning purposes is allowed provided that the volume will be based on VATable sales of the canned products from the previous year with additional 10 percent of the sales for buffer stock.

“Technically, importers should be able to import 10 percent more than what they are using now. So, I don’t see any reason why they fear a possible shortage in the supply of mackerel for canning,” Laurel said.

The problem, he added, is when some “crafty” importers diverted and sold part of their frozen fish inventory to wet markets, where the sale of marine products are exempted from value-added tax.

MO 14 which is expected to take effect on Apr. 14, is precisely timed to coincide with the start of the open fishing season.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) implements a closed season for several months in major spawning areas to allow the fish to repopulate and grow undisturbed, ensuring bountiful supply.

Earlier, the DA rejected suggestions to crack down on wet market vendors selling imported frozen galunggong, tulingan and alumahan, saying the offenders were the fish importers.

By going after erring importers, the DA said local fishermen are protected from unfair trade practices that undermine their livelihood, and help the government collect the right taxes.

“Wet market vendors are not at fault. We blame those who import and divert fish to the wet markets. So, I don’t think the crackdown will be in the palengke level,” Laurel said.

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