October 2002


The Philippine Government's policies favour foreign fishing interests and monopolies at the expense of the country's small fishermen and consumers.

By Joseph S Yu

Philippine consumers burdened by the high price of galunggong (round scad) at their local wet market can blame government policies, which favour foreign fishing interests and monopolies at the expense of small local fishermen.

The government encourages production for export while opening the doors for cheap imports, which threatens the country's food security and drives poor fishermen deeper into poverty. Meanwhile, it does nothing about the monopolies of big commercial traders who control all areas of production.

Monopoly Control

Data from the survey by the fisherfolk's group Pamalakaya revealed that although landed costs for imported fish are lower than production costs of locally produced fish, this does not necessarily result in lower retail prices.

Their survey, conducted in 2001, revealed that the landed cost for a kilo of imported round scad is between P10 and P12, while the local galunggong costs P15-P17 per kilo.

This means that commercial traders would rather buy imported fish than locally produced ones because it is more profitable for them.

Landed costs of imported fish products are lower because these are highly subsidised, while local fish producers have to contend with high costs of production due to lack of government support.

Meanwhile, big commercial traders, who are actually importers or main clients of fish importers, largely control the distribution, marketing and pricing of fish products, and are thus able to dictate market prices and keep them high.

Even worse, their monopoly of the entire production and distribution cycle drives already poor municipal fishermen deeper into poverty.

Unfair competition from imports forces small fisherfolk to sell their already meagre catch at par or even lower than the prices of imported fish to traders simply to make a living.

Unfair Intrusions

If this weren't a serious enough problem, they also have to contend with the intrusion of large commercial fishing vessels into their fishing grounds, which eats into their daily catch and earnings.

A survey conducted by Pamalakaya in the last quarter of 2001 revealed that over the last 10 years, a small fisherman's daily catch was drastically reduced to an average of 1 to 3 kilos from a high of 10 to 15 kilos. Their daily earnings are now pegged at between P50 and P150 from an average high of P500 to P1,000 a day.

This situation is exacerbated by the continuing monopoly of foreign and local fishermen, which extends not only over fisheries gear and technology but also over the whole system of fisheries production. This leaves municipal fishermen unable to upgrade their gear beyond the most rudimentary, and thus makes them vulnerable to exploitation by commercial fishermen and traders.

Pamalakaya said that more than 30% of the gross value of a small fisherman's catch goes to fish consignees, brokers and merchants due to underpricing.

Measly Wages

Many small fishermen also end up going to work for big fishing boats, where they earn measly wages that are barely enough to meet their families' needs. The Pamalakaya survey discovered that a commercial fishworker's average daily share from a commercial fishing vessel's catch is between P50 and P120, while some 50% to 75% of the net gains of a commercial fishing vessel's catch goes to the operator or owner.

Many also end up working as aquaculture workers, where their daily wages range from P75 to P100. Meanwhile, the landlord owner of a fishpond gets between 75% and 90% of the pond's net income.

These wages are less than a third of the IBON estimate of the daily cost of living for a family of six engaged in agriculture, which is pegged at P398.28 as of June 2002.

This has also resulted in declining production in the municipal fisheries sector. Government data show that output in municipal fisheries declined by an average of 1.58% from 1992-2001. Meanwhile, output in the aquaculture sub-sector grew an average of 5.76% during the same period.

Fisheries Code for Whom?

Pamalakaya has already pointed out that certain provisions in RA 8550, the Philippine Fisheries Code, facilitate the entry of commercial fishing boats into municipal grounds that should be reserved for small fishermen.

The group said that although RA 8550 forbids commercial fishing in municipal waters with a depth of less than seven fathoms, it does not specifically forbid commercial operations in waters greater than seven fathoms even if these fall within the 10.1 to 15 kilometres distance from the shoreline prescribed by law.

Through these deceptive provisions, the territory of deep-sea fishing vessels has been expanded to include 96.3% of territorial waters in the Philippines.

This has forced municipal fishermen to venture farther out since commercial boats already overfish coastal waters. Since most small-scale fishermen rely only on small, non-motorised boats, they can only fish as far as they can paddle or sail.

In order to survive, small fishermen are forced to fish in groups. And lack of resources forces them to rent boats and gear or give their services to large or medium- scale fishermen in exchange for either cash or a share of the catch.

Fish for Food, Not for Exports

Fish is one of the country's staple foods, accounting for some 60% of the national protein consumption, and ranking second to rice as the most important staple food of Filipinos.

Yet, current government policies oriented towards a globalisation thrust are not the solution to assuring the country's food security in this important staple food. It will also not alleviate the widespread poverty in the countryside.

The monopoly of big traders and commercial fishermen over the whole production system should be broken in favour of the small local fishermen who, after all, are the ones who produce fish for local consumption.

Small fishers should also be given the means to own their own gear in order to improve their productivity.

It is only by changing this regressive system that we can be assured of self-sufficiency in our fish supplies. - Third World Network Features

About the writer: Joseph S Yu is a correspondent for IBON Features, in which the above article first appeared (IBON Features 2002-68, 1 October 2002).

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