Back to export mode for GenSan’s fresh tuna stocks

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 30 Sep) – Traders and producers of fresh mature tuna species, which are caught using the traditional handline fishing method, are gradually getting back on their feet with orders from abroad, mainly the United States, making a comeback, industry players said.

Traders haggle for the prices of fresh tuna stocks unloaded at the fish port complex in General Santos City. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

John Heitz, an American expatriate who is engaged in international tuna trading for three decades here, said Wednesday he resumed the foreign shipment of fresh large tuna after six months of shutdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I’m back on business even if the tuna market in the United States is still on its knees with many restaurants forced to close for bankruptcy due to the pandemic,” he told MindaNews on the phone.

The decision to supply again his clients with fresh tuna, a highly migratory species rich in Omega 3 fatty acid, comes with the availability of commercial flights from here to Manila, and on to international destinations, Heitz said.

On Wednesday, September 30, Heitz shipped 11 pieces of fresh tuna weighing less than a ton (1,000 kilos) to the US via a commercial airline.

Some fresh tuna traders resumed shipping internationally about two months ago, he said.

Due to the lack of access to foreign and other domestic markets at the height of the pandemic, prices of good quality tuna went down to as low P100 per kilo in June, Heitz recalled.

Some tuna were just sprawled along the road to be butchered and sold that cheap due to lack of buyers from other areas and abroad, according to Heitz.

But nowadays, Heitz said the fresh tuna business is getting back on its feet, with prices currently fetching at P200 to P300 per kilo for first-class stocks.

Early in September, the fish port complex was partially shut down for a few days for decontamination and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the facility has been traced as the source of local transmission of the virus infecting fish traders from various parts of Soccsksargen.

Raul Gonzales, spokesperson of the Alliance of Tuna Handliners, said the buying price of tuna is getting good because of the resumption of domestic and international shipment.

Tuna fishing boats docked at the fish port complex in General Santos City. (MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

“The main driver of the price of tuna is the Class A catches, or those for the foreign markets,” he told MindaNews in a separate interview.

Gonzales said he expects tuna trading to return to normal operations or profits once the battle against the COVID-19 becomes triumphant and sustained by governments across the globe.

With domestic and international flights becoming available, Gonzales said that about five tuna exporters have so far resumed business operations at the fish port complex here.

But, he added, they are just half of the number of exporters that operated before the pandemic that almost paralyzed the local economy.

Before the pandemic, the exporters shipped fresh tuna abroad almost every day, but now that is no longer the case due to the limited international flights in Manila, Gonzales said.

Aside from chilled shipment, fresh tuna stocks are also bought by manufacturers for processing into frozen loins for the foreign and domestic markets.

The value of fresh, chilled and frozen tuna was pegged at $57.89 million annually prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, data from the Soccsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. showed.

The tuna industry employs at least 120,000 people in General Santos, touted as the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines,” and neighboring areas.

Of this number, some 71,000 are engaged in handline fishing, usually catching yellowfin tuna, according to the handline sector’s earlier estimates.

Handline fishing employs the traditional hook and line method to catch tuna.

Canned tuna production is the other major sector of the local tuna industry. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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