Speaking during the 8th National Tuna Congress here, Panganiban said that the economic and finance departments are now studying a proposed fuel subsidy for fishing boats and vessels similar to the discounted pricing scheme offered earlier by oil companies to public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers.
“I already submitted it to the economic managers and hopefully this would soon be elevated to the cabinet for further discussion and approval,” the secretary said.
He did not provide other details of the proposal but cited that it would be similar to the coupon system of the PUJs that featured a P1-per-liter discount on purchases of diesel fuel.
Panganiban said the proposed subsidy scheme was earlier requested by the tuna fishing industry, through the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing Associations and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAAII), to help them cope with the increasing fuel prices.
Marfenio Tan, SFFAAII president, said the tuna fishing industry requested for a P1-per-liter discount on their diesel purchases to cushion the impact of the increasing fuel prices on their operations.
He said local fishing companies used to have the fuel subsidy from the national government but was cut off several years ago.
“Any help from the government at this moment is very crucial. We feel that the fuel subsidy is one of the answers to our present woes,” he said.
Tan, who operates a tuna fishing fleet registered under the family-owned firm San Andres Fishing Industries, Inc., said local tuna fishing companies have been forced to scale down their operations since last year due to the increasing fuel prices, including diesel that breached the P40 mark several weeks ago.
From just 10 percent a decade ago, when diesel was sold at P11 per liter, he said fuel costs now comprise 50 to 60 percent of the total expenses of a regular fishing operation, depending on the distance of the fishing grounds.
And as the prices of fuel increased, Tan said the price of tuna in the market almost remained the same, averaging only at US$900 per metric ton.
To cut down on their operational costs, Tan said most fishing operators now deploy their vessels to nearer fishing areas and just stay close to their “payaos” or fish aggregating devices.
Francisco Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines (TCAP), said the tuna canneries have been at the receiving end of the continuing oil crisis’s negative impact to the tuna fishing sector.
“Our canneries directly absorb the final impact of the fishing sector’s problems because we take in the bulk of these tuna deliveries. The bottom line is that while our manufacturing cost continued to increase, the export prices remained the same,” he said.
Buencamino said the tuna canneries were “able to live with that” since tuna only covers 45 percent of their production inputs.
But he said their overall situation remains unstable due to the rising costs of tin can, which is also largely due to the increasing fuel expenses of the oil-dependent steel industry.
“The oil crisis has caused a spiraling effect on the production costs of the entire tuna industry and there’s no clear end to it right now,” he added.
The local tuna fishing sector presently comprise at least 270 small, medium and large purse seiners and 1,150 service boats. Small and medium purse seiners have gross capacities of less than 250 tons while the large purse seiners carry more than 250 tons.
Some 2,500 handline fishing boats or pumboats also contribute to more than 25,000 metric tons of tuna that are unloaded daily at the fishport complex here and the six tuna canneries.
At least six of the country’s eight tuna canneries are presently based in the city, generating at least US$160 million of the US$350 million annual export earnings of the entire tuna industry.