The initial wave of the re-investigation on the high prices of fish in Bohol yesterday directs to finding ways to cut the layers of markups by middlemen on the fish prices.
Representatives of the fish trade sector disclosed during the first round of the committee level inquiry of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that fishermen get cash advance from dispatchers for capital expenditures such as gasoline, food allowance for their venture to the sea and food for their families they left behind while they go fishing.
These dispatchers who are actually the first layer of middlemen have the first access to the fish catch as the fishermen would contact them first as soon as they catch the fish.
As soon as the fishermen would contact them for details on the volume of fish caught and the kinds of fish caught, the first-layer middlemen would fix the price, being the source of the fishermen’s capital.
These first middlemen would immediately send small pumpboats to meet the fishermen while still at the sea and transfer the fish catch from the fishermen’s boats to their vessels.
Even while still travelling to the shores, these dispatchers would already contact the next layer of middlemen called “lab-asera” to relay the details of the available fish supply with the prices already marked up.
The second-layer middlemen would then agree to get the supply wherein those who would order for more basins or containers of fish get priority, especially when supply is low.
The second-layer middlemen will then contact the next layer of middlemen, and set their own markup on the prices.
The third layer of middlemen will then contact the stall owners in public markets and put their markup on the prices.
The stall owners will also have to mark up the prices when they sell the fish to the consumers.
As the representatives of the fish trade sector who appeared during yesterday’s investigation by the SP Committee on Agriculture said there are usually three layers of middlemen before the supply of fish reaches the fish vendors who have stalls at the public market.
In this practice, there are at least four markups added on the price of fish from the point of the fishermen at the sea to the consumers.
Some of the middlemen also strive for profit as they have to pay debts from Indian loan sharks called “Bombay” where they usually get their capital.
As SP Member Tomas Abapo Jr. understood from the statements of the representatives of the fish trade sector, the fishermen are forced to transact with dispatchers or middlemen for capital since they do not have enough money to finance their venture to the sea.
Some dispatchers would mark-up by P5-P10 per kilo.
Abapo suggested that fishermen, like those in Tubigon, will form a cooperative where they could get capital.
The advantage of getting the capital from the cooperative that the fishermen would form from among themselves is that they get share in the profit earned from the interest on the money loaned to the members.
For his part, Nilo Pocot- -Dao Fish Vendors Association president- – said that dispatchers usually get 10 percent from the sales.
There are middlemen who would get 30-40 containers of fish and are usually preferred by dispatchers, aside from relatives.
Small-time middlemen or lab-asera would usually order only five to six containers of fish.
If the supply of fish is low, only the big-time middlemen could get the supply.
Causeway Fish Vendor Association Jaime Caluscusan, for his part, said that they could get directly to dispatchers which is the reason that the prices are lower at the their fish terminal at sitio Ubos of Poblacion 1 in Tagbilaran City.
For his part, Assistant Provincial Agriculturist Larry Pamugas, said that not all fish products sold in Bohol are expensive and that there are kinds of fish that cheaper in Bohol than in other provinces.
SP Member Abeleon Damalerio, as chair of the Committee on Agriculture, presided the inquiry.
Abapo and SP Member Alexie Tutor also participated in the inquiry since they were the ones who raised the matter during the previous sessions.
SP Members Victor Balite and Ricky Masamayor also attended the investigation.
Pamugas represented the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist.
Talibon Councilor Apolinario Artiaga Talibon, Rolando Caba- -president of the Federated Fisherfolks in Tubigon, BFAR-Bohol Provincial Fishery Officer Leo Bongalos, City Market Administrator Jun Besa, and representatives of DTI-Bohol also attended the investigation.
Damalerio said they will proceed with more rounds of inquiry to identify other factors behind the high prices of fish in Bohol.
This is considering that prices of fish in other provinces where middlemen participated in the fish trade are still lower compared to Bohol.
The SP Committee on Agriculture will also invite Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) Administrator Benjie Oliva to future inquiry in relation to his statement that a cartel is controlling the prices of fish in Bohol.