BFAR shelves plan to seize imported fish in wet markets
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will defer, for now, its crackdown on the sale of imported fish, such as salmon and pompano in wet markets, amid its ongoing review of government regulations concerning these imports.
“What we have in mind is to strengthen the previous strategy or law enforcement processes that we are doing, and in doing so, probably we will be able to avert [the] proliferation [of those products],” the agency’s officer in charge, Demosthenes Escoto, said at a press briefing Friday.
While he noted the smuggling of imported fish, he said the bureau will just focus its monitoring on “traditional areas,” such as ports and storage facilities.
Escoto added that BFAR is currently reviewing, in particular, Fisheries Administrative Order No. 195, the 1999 directive which allows the importation of fish but only for their canning and processing.
‘More holistic’ policy
BFAR’s announcement last week that it would confiscate imported fish in wet markets drew criticism from various groups.
Last Tuesday, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. filed a resolution seeking an investigation by the House of Representatives into the planned crackdown which is supposed to begin Sunday.
Escoto said the bureau will now set aside that campaign after “taking into account the recommendations from fisheries stakeholders and some lawmakers.”
BFAR is “a little bit confident” of issuing a “better [and] more holistic” policy by early next year, he said.
Meanwhile the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (NFARMC), the government’s policymaking body on the fisheries sector, said there should be no letup on the campaign against the smuggling of imported fish.
“[T]he NFARMC believes that the focus should be the [un]scrupulous importers who violate the policies and not the small fish vendors at the wet markets,” the council said in a statement.
“Contrary to some feedback, [BFAR’s plan] is not discriminatory to anyone. In fact, it protects one of the most vulnerable sectors in the country, the marginalized fisherfolk, and the whole industry from competition against imported fish in wet markets,” it added.
Also on Friday, activist group Pamalakaya said BFAR should “spare small fish retailers who have been forced to sell cheap and imported fishes.”
The agency “should go after importers who violated the FAO 195 by facilitating frozen fish for direct market sales,” it added.
“We assert that if there’s no importation, there would be no imported fish in the local market to begin with,” Pamalakaya spokesperson Ronnel Arambulo said in a statement.
Arambulo also cautioned the government against the sale of what his group called “balikbayan” fish—or fish imported from China but caught in the Philippines’ territorial waters occupied by the Chinese.
Sen. Grace Poe, in a statement, welcomed BFAR’s reconsideration of its move, which she said would be “cruel to drastically implement [since it] will adversely affect the public.”
“Having a good policy in place and seeing its proper implementation are the way to go [rather] than embarking on a fishing expedition to the detriment of millions of ordinary Filipinos,” she said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARIEJO S. RAMOS AND MARLON RAMOS
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