By Sheldeen Joy Talavera

THE government’s program of building more cold storage near fish landings will ultimately be futile if it allows reclamation activities to continue damaging the fishing grounds, an association of fisherfolk said.

Fernando L. Hicap, chairman of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, said that while post-harvest activities are necessary, more attention needs to be paid to activities that depress the productivity of fisherfolk.

“(Post-harvest facilities) will not be beneficial to us if we have nothing to catch,” he told BusinessWorld by phone.

“Our call is to stop the damaging (projects) that the government has allowed such as reclamation and mining within our fishery. What we need is rehabilitation,” he said.

He added that rehabilitating fishing grounds via measures like planting mangroves, will help reduce the impact of climate change on coastal communities.

Last week, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. announced a plan to build 11 cold storage facilities to address post-harvest losses caused by spoilage.

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the current fish spoilage rate is between 20% and 40% due to lack of post-harvest equipment and cold storage warehouses.

In its fisheries report, the Philippine Statistics Authority estimated that fish output grew 2.2% to 4,339.89 thousand metric tons in 2022.

Small fishermen only have access to styrofoam coolers filled with ice to preserve their catch, Mr. Hicap said.

Anthony S. Dizon, president of the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines, said that subjecting the harvest intended for direct consumption to brine cooling before delivery to market has been the traditional practice.

Fish varieties such as tuna and sardines that are used for further processing are best kept, he said.

“Our advocacy is centered on converting this traditional practice to acceptance of the benefits of frozen fish which is the generally accepted practice in aquaculture,” he said in an e-mail sent to BusinessWorld.

“Similar to other food categories, freezing is the most effective way of preserving food quality and creating supply and demand balance by extending product shelf lives,” he added.

According to Mr. Dizon, several cold storage facilities in the National Capital Region have sufficient operating flexibility to store imported fisheries products.

The Philippines has 30,000 tons of storage capacity mostly used for tuna and sardines in Mindanao.

He said that the constructing a cold storage facility would cost around P60,000-P80,000 per ton of capacity, which also vary with the technology utilized. This cost estimate covers the building, plant and equipment, but excludes the real estate cost.

Fisheries products can be kept for three months under proper storage conditions. Storage temperature is required to be at least minus 18 degrees Celsius.