‘Middlemen’ behind high fish prices in Surigao Market

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/10 February) – Cities in neighboring Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur get fish from this city but the prices there are reportedly cheaper, local officials found out to their chagrin as they tried to find ways to address the perennial complaint of residents against the high prices of fish in the local market.

Councilor Baltazar C. Abian, committee on ways and means chair, said they are currently doing an in-depth probe on how fish prices have gone so high that “even the middle-class cannot afford to buy them”.

The city’s waters, which is facing the great Pacific Ocean, remain abundant of fish, Councilor Abian noted, adding the city even supplies fish to neighboring cities like Cabadbaran and Butuan in Agusan del Norte and Bayugan in Agusan del Sur.

“But the fish sold in these cities have lower prices compared here. This is something we should seriously look into for the Surigaonons,” Abian told reporters.

Councilor Jose Begil Jr. said the council is mulling an ordinance to solve the anomaly in prices.

“We conducted studies and analysis of this problem to know the reasons behind the high prices of fish.  We came up with substantial data, and there is really unjustifiable markup by middlemen and stall vendors in the market,” he said in mixed English and Cebuano.

Councilor Begil said that middlemen who buy in bulk from local fishermen may have something to do with the disparity in prices.

He said that based on the reports he gathered middlemen buy a kilo of squid at only P60 to P80 from fishermen. But he wondered why a kilo of squid fetches as much as P250 to P300 per kilo.

Begil added the current pricing is not justifiable, although he said that Surigao City has the highest prices of gasoline and diesel in the entire Caraga and that this may also be taken into account.

Earlier, local transport groups accused the big three oil companies of overpricing.

Joel Albarando of Piston Surigao said petroleum products sold in the city cost as much as P3 to P4 more per liter compared with other areas in Caraga.

Begil noted that this pricing problem has been around for several years.

He said he pities the fishermen and motorists who may have fallen victims to middlemen, both of fish and petroleum products.

He said some middlemen in the fish trade have even gone abusive by reportedly refusing to pay the fishermen outright.

For market vendor Berlina E. Plaza, the unusually high prices of fish in the city may have been caused by the equally high price of gasoline and the “mambikilay,” a term for the middlemen.

Plaza has been selling in the market since the late 80’s, and she said the middlemen have made disparities of prices worst.

In her case, the assorted fish she displays in the market are directly bought from her supplier, not from middlemen. But if her supplier can’t make the delivery, she is forced to buy from the middlemen.

She described how the system works: “A buyer buys the fish from the fisherman at sea. Upon reaching the fish port another buyer approaches, and then another buyer buys it at the market. Yet another buyer comes to buy it before it is bought by the vendors. That shows why the price of fish is so high.” (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)