THE Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Food Security has created a sub-task group to focus on aquaculture and fisheries, a non-governmental organization (NGO) said.

At a virtual briefing Monday, advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan said the new sub-task group was tasked with improving aquaculture production by streamlining the process for identifying potential aquaculture sites and approving private sector investment.

“The Philippine aquaculture industry is efficient, strong, and competitive. It doesn’t require state subsidies to survive. All it needs is a policy environment conducive for sustainable growth,” the NGO said.

Citing government data, Tugon Kabuhayan said the aquaculture subsector accounted for 53.4% of fisheries output in 2019.

Tugon Kabuhayan added that according to price monitoring by the Department of Agriculture, the prevailing price of milkfish (bangus) and tilapia was P160 and P120 per kilogram, respectively, cheaper than other protein sources such as pork, which was at P380 per kilogram, and chicken, at P180 per kilogram.

“Filipinos consume more fish protein. Fortunately, this is the most reasonably priced and readily available. Based on volume and prices, aquaculture is now the backbone of our protein food security,” Tugon Kabuhayan said.

It said issues currently hampering the development of the aquaculture industry include short tenures in production sites which discourage long-term investment; limited government-approved sites; and the need for stronger regulation.

The sub-task group’s chairperson, Agriculture Undersecretary Cheryl Marie Natividad-Caballero, said the new panel plans to increase production volume by 2-3%.

Ms. Natividad-Caballero added the plans call for 80 additional fish cages in Laguna de Bay within the first half of 2021, to augment the fish supply for Metro Manila.

She said 10% of the country’s dams are suitable for aquaculture, including Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija, Magat Dam in Ifugao and Isabela provinces, and San Roque Dam in Pangasinan and Benguet.

“There have been initial discussions. We just have to define the protocol and the terms of reference so that when the private sector goes into aquaculture in those non-traditional areas, the laws are already defined,” Ms. Natividad-Caballero said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave