PORT FOLIO Column: Ramon Cuyco Column


Dec 5, 2022, 11:52 PM
Ramon Cuyco

Ramon Cuyco


Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 195 is about fish importation by canners/processors, including hotels and restaurants, which do not require certificate of necessity to import (CONTI) as the canners/processors have specific purposes, they need steady supply of fish for their business year- round.

FAO 259 regulates the importation of frozen fish and fishery/aquatic products for the wet markets. It addresses the vulnerabilities of dwindling local catch due to closed and off-fishing season, of occurrence of typhoons and other calamities which drastically affect local supply. To protect the local catch from undue competition, imported fish under a CONTI must be landed before the onset of the fishing season

But the fishy trade became messy when DA-BFAR devised a new classification on top of the abovementioned orders purportedly to supply the requirements of hotels and restaurants.

The result, some fish traders circumvented RA 8550 and run rings around BFAR. These fish importers trade their fish imports year-round disregarding the protective mantle of the law to benefit the local fish production. These fish traders are known in the industry as INSTITUTIONAL BUYER, a classification not in the law but a creation of FAO 195. Thus, the IB is of doubtful legality.

To reiterate, FAO 259 has multi-purposes: fish conservation measure, food security and anti-inflationary measure, and protection of local produce from undue competition with imported products.

Unfortunately, the DA-BFAR went beyond the intention of Section 61(c) of RA 8550, which limits the importable species to galunggong and the like. Species like pink salmon, pompano, are, sans justification, excepted from the certified species. Ergo, legitimate fish importers under FAO 259 cannot import pink salmon for the wet market during the closed and off-fishing seasons.

Going by the intent of FAO 259, why should salmon be excepted from those certified as necessary to be imported, when the pricey imported pink salmon cannot with the local catch because we do not have it in our resources?

If FAO 259 addresses the sustainability of our local resources by allowing local fish species to replenish their stock and to supply the fish requirements of the country by allowing importation, this simply does not add up in the case of pink salmon: there is no stock to replenish and nothing to protect from undue competition.

Fortunately, due to the uproar raised by the wet markets and their customers, the BFAR was forced to impose a moratorium on the confiscation of pink salmon and pompano and vowed to revisit FAO 195, its own issuance that stinks from antiquity. But it was quiet about what it would do about IBs who violated the terms and conditions of BFAR and PFDA registration and accreditation.

At the Senate last November 29, Senator Raffy Tulfo lambasted BFAR for enforcing an anti-poor monitoring activity, which pierced the veil that concealed the operation of IBs. The announced moratorium on enforcement maybe a respite for the salmon-eating Filipinos, but unless these vital measures are adopted pronto by DA-BFAR, the issue of IBs will hibernate to reappear later with vengeance.

My prescriptions are: a) abolish IBs; b) include pink salmon among the importable species covered by CONTI so as not to be anti-poor or discriminatory; c) activate the FARMC and amend its membership and d) the “no consultation, no certification” basis should be strictly adhered to.

Otherwise, the fishy mess will continue to fill the air—whether in swanky hotels or wet markets and the Senate and Ombudsman will constantly keep casting their nets.

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