Sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna production down

GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews / 9 May) – The volume of export-quality or sashimi-grade fresh mature yellowfin tuna landed at this city, the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines,” this year has gone down compared last year.

Data from the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority (PFDA) showed that export-grade yellowfin tuna landing in the first quarter of the year reached only 505 metric tons.

This is down 4.3 percent or 23 MT from the 528 recorded in the first three months of 2012, data from the state-owned corporation added.

PFDA, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, manages the operation of the local fish port complex, as well as seven other fish complexes in the different parts of the country.

The best yellowfin tuna stocks go mostly to the United States and Japan, where they are served in fancy sashimi or sushi restaurants.

Most of the fresh mature yellowfin tuna landed locally goes to the domestic markets, simply because they do not pass the export quality.

There was in fact a significant increase in the landings of non-export grade yellow fin tuna in the first quarter of 2013 to 2,034 MT from 1,517 MT for the same period last year, up 34 percent or by 517 MT.

The sashimi-grade tuna fetches a hefty average buying price of P355 per kilogram (kg) in the first quarter of 2013. For the same period last year, the average gate price was P325/kg or cheaper by P30/kg.

On the other hand, those sold in the domestic market in the first three months of 2013 commanded an average buying price of P218/kg and P148 for the same period in 2012.

But who unload the best catches of the day these past years?

John Heitz, export chief of GenSan Aqua Traders who has been in the industry for at least two decades, said it is not the big fishing industry players anymore but the small ordinary fishermen.

The American expatriate cited earlier the stricter policy of Indonesia on its rich tuna fishing grounds as one factor that is doing a favor for the small-scale Filipino tuna fishermen.

Indonesia did not renew the bilateral fishing access with the Philippines that expired in 2006.

The pact provided licenses to the Philippines for 75 catcher vessels, 150 fish carriers, 20 long liners, 300 light boats, and 10 single purse seiners, and allowed access to the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas of the Indonesian EEZ. It also provides offloading and re-supply access to 10 Indonesian ports.

“It’s not anymore the big fishing boats that are bringing in the best tuna catch but the small ones owned by poor fishermen,” Rolly Puno, a tuna fish classifier, also observed way back in 2009.

These small boats venture in the sea for a few days so their catches unloaded here most of the time are the freshest, he said.