Local canners are warning of a possible sardine shortage in the last quarter of 2022. This is because commercial fishing boats haven’t been able to catch enough of the fish before the fishing season ends in December in Zamboanga, where the bulk of the country’s sardines are caught.
“What I am clarifying here is that we are not claiming that there is a shortage now, [but] that there will be a shortage if this is not addressed,” said Francisco Buencamino, Executive Director of the Canned Sardines Association of the Philippines (CSAP).
He explained that in the sardine industry, commercial fishers are only allowed to catch the needed 216,000 metric tons of fish for nine months out of the year, with the closed fishing season imposed so that the sardines have time to spawn. The fish caught in those nine months (March 1 to Oct 31) are expected to supply the whole 12 months of the year.
Because of this, “we hope that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) understands that when they investigate our warehouses, we are not hoarding just because we store a huge inventory. They say we’re hoarding. No. are preparing for the closed fishing season,” Bunecamino explained in Taglish.
The cause of the (probable) shortage
Buencamino went on to explain that the projected shortage stems from reports from their supplier fishing boats that, “they’re only catching about 40% of what they used to catch, and of late, only 20% of what they traditionally catch at this time of the year. So the supply of sardines is dwindling,” which led to the group’s issuing of the alert that there might not be enough sardines by December, “which is the peak season of most food commodities demand.”
How much is needed before the fishing season ends? “We need 72,000 MT to be caught before the closure of the fishing season on November 30. 72 million kilos of tamban (sardines).”
Buencamino emphasizes that this is not a declaration of a current shortage. He also addresses the claim of some municipal fisher groups that refute his assertions by saying there are a lot of fish in municipal waters.
“There is a delineation of the fishing zone for municipal fishermen and a fishing zone for commercial fishing. Zero to 15 kilometers [from the shoreline] is considered as municipal waters, and 15 kilometers upwards, the farther away from shoreline becomes commercial waters. Sardines are a highly migratory species… They will go where the food is. Plankton drifts towards the shoreline, so where will the fish go? Where their food is, and that’s towards the shoreline. If it’s past 15 kilometers, it’s considered municipal waters. Commercial fishing is [not] allowed in municipal waters. That is the rule.”
He further clarified that there are cases where the Local Government Unit (LGU) can allow commercial fishers to ply up to 10.1 kilometers from the shoreline, and allowing this at this time will be a big help in preventing a sardine shortage later in the year. “Out of about 15 brands, only about four brands have their own fishing [vessels]. The other 10 have to buy from suppliers, whether it is local, commercial, municipal, or even imported. There are two brands that only use foreign sardines.”
The proposed solution
Buencamino has met with BFAR about CSAP’s proposed solution to this problem. “The solution that I offered is this: what if I convinced the canneries to buy from the municipal fishermen?”
He explained that sardines aren’t usually caught for the wet market because it is “a bony, scaly, and very small fish that does not really have a good retail market demand,” so it would benefit both sardine canners and municipal fishermen if the fish were sold to those that need it. “There is now a solution that we are offering to the municipal fishermen. Sell to us given our technical specifications of what is acceptable to us: it has to be fresh, in its natural form, and [given to us] within so many days of catching…”
He added that the canneries are willing to “buy at a percentage higher than what they can sell at the wet markets” and that if the fishers can meet the specifications, each cannery is willing to buy 500 tubs. “We can also issue a PO for that, given a certain price and our technical description.”
Bunecamino reported that BFAR has been receptive to this suggestion and hopes that all organizations involved (the canneries, municipal fishers, commercial fishers, and BFAR) will be able to resolve the shortage within the month.
“I’m very pleased to announce to you that there are already ongoing talks of getting together the municipal fishermen and the commercial fishing,” he said.
When asked what the canneries would do if they don’t get the amount of fish needed before the fishing season ends in 2022, Bunecamino answered with only one word: “Import.”
They hope it doesn’t have to come to that.