THE aquaculture sector must be tapped to fill the fish supply gap in the event projections of tightening supply by the end of the year are borne out, while avoiding excessive imports, an agriculture advocacy group said.

Tugon Kabuhayan also said another factor pressuring the fish supply is the three-month closed season for round scad, or galunggong, beginning on Nov. 1, though it added that such measures are ultimately beneficial.

In a virtual briefing Monday, the group’s convenor Asis G. Perez said the closed season declared by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will allow the round scad to spawn.

“Aquaculture can help address consumer demand and will cover the supply of the fish during the implementation of the closed season. The closed season will also help revitalize galunggong supply,” Mr. Perez said.

“Also, a lot of evidence has shown that with closed fishing seasons, you actually increase production. Without closed fishing seasons, maybe we will not have enough fish,” he added.

Mr. Perez, a former BFAR national director, said the aquaculture subsector accounted for 2.3 million metric tons (MT) or 53% of total fish production of 4.36 million MT in 2018.

“Based on the recent price monitoring of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the retail price of galunggong in selected Metro Manila markets ranges from P170 to P240. On the other hand, tilapia ranges from P90 to P140 pesos. Regardless of the price, protein from tilapia is no different from other fish,” Mr. Perez said.

The DA projected a deficit of 42 days’ supply for the fishery sector by the end of the year.

Supply of round scad is estimated at 53,925 MT, much less than projected demand of 105,690 MT, resulting in a deficit of 51,675 MT.

On the other hand, tilapia supply is estimated at 102,624 MT, with demand at 114,660 MT, producing a 12,036 deficit.

In response to the deficit, the DA is planning to import of 400,000 MT of these fish varieties, which would result in a surplus by the end of the year.

Mr. Perez said the DA’s planned imports must be calibrated in order not to affect fish producers.

“We will have a problem if imports are too high because it will dampen the market for the fisheries and aquaculture sector. That might result in a reduction in future production,” Mr. Perez said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Perez called for assistance from the government in promoting and urging consumers to buy domestic fish products.

“There is no difference between fish caught through wild-catch and those produced via aquaculture,” Mr. Perez said.

“Producers are very much willing to supply food to consumers, especially during the closed season and despite the onset of the pandemic. They just need support in improving the supply chain,” he added. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave