THE Bangus Industry Stakeholders & Dealers Alliance (BISDA) said the government needs to impose tougher pollution controls on industry and households to ensure the sustainability of the Laguna de Bay fishery, as prices of bangus, or milkfish, become prohibitive for consumers.
It said restrictions on aquaculture in the growing area which is nearest to Metro Manila’s major markets are not the solution to controlling pollution, and that the government needs to crack down on polluters along the Pasig and Marikina rivers, which feed into Laguna de Bay.
BISDA spokesperson Joel R. Dizon said in a text message to the BusinessWorld that bangus growers on Laguna de Bay must be “allowed to utilize the optimum area for fish production” and that the government must “go hard after the true culprits of pollution: industrial effluents, domestic wastes, all happening upstream Pasig and Marikina rivers far from the lake itself.”
He said current market prices for bangus range from P170-P200 per kilogram nationwide from their normal range of P90-P120.
Mr. Dizon said relying on fish imports will diminish the competitiveness of the domestic fishing industry and pose a drain on the country’s dollar reserves.
“If we rely on imports, we will further impair the competitiveness of local fish supply, deplete our national dollar reserves and slowly drive Laguna Lake to eutrophication — the overblooming of algae until turbidity reaches toxic levels (to the point where) the fishery industry can no longer bounce back,” according to Mr. Dizon.
In an open letter to President Rodrigo R. Duterte, BISDA said rising prices for bangus are due to losses suffered by growers in Pangasinan, Pampanga and Bulacan due to heavy rain associated with the southwest monsoon, or habagat, and recent typhoons.
The group also cited weak production in Laguna de Bay after the implementation of Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) Board Resolution No. 518 and 525, which impose a moratorium on aquaculture and call for the dismantling of fish pens owned by corporations to allow small fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds.
BISDA said that the LLDA should be mandated to protect the capacity of the aquaculture industry in Laguna de Bay.
“We join the opinion of the experts to instead address the real culprits (industrial, agriculture and domestic wastes) to the water degradation of the lake and thus increase aquaculture productivity,” it said in the open letter.
According to Mr. Dizon, “We resorted to publishing our open letter because we have submitted numerous recommendations for alleviating the scarcity of bangus supply to LLDA in several consultations but we feel that these do not reach the President.”
“If we help the aquaculture industry instead of burdening it with more restrictive regulations, we can increase production. That will lower the market price,” Mr. Dizon added.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said that it will conduct an assessment with affected milkfish stakeholders through a dialogue. It also said that the BFAR, which is under the Department of Agriculture (DA), has an Agricultural Credit Policy Council Production Loan Easy Access (ACPC PLEA) program which small fishermen may avail to expand their fish production.
In a text message, BFAR National Director Eduardo B. Gongona said that “The DA-BFAR is implementing a regular project on input assistance for milkfish, tilapia, seaweed and shellfish. These include a training component and technical assistance on water quality and disease monitoring. The input is in the form of fingerlings.”
“Qualified cooperatives may avail of the ACPC PLEA Program to avail of production loans. We will conduct a needs assessment among affected bangus stakeholders through a consultation-dialogue for BFAR to appropriately assess the assistance needed,” Mr. Gongona added.
He said however that assistance in the form of fingerlings will only be possible if the LLDA lifts its controls. He added that the public prefers round scad, or galunggong, as a source of protein.
He added that the Philippines has other growing areas for bangus, citing Iloilo, an added that prices are high because of middlemen. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio