A FISHY SITUATION: Diving into the Pinoy’s current fish and seafood consumption and the decline in marine resources

(Photo from https://ph.oceana.org)

A typical Filipino diet comprises of rice-vegetables-fish combination with fish found as the main source of protein for most Filipinos. However, despite the archipelagic nature of the Philippines and the diversity of fish and seafoods available in the country, a high proportion of Filipinos was found to have protein inadequacy.

These are among the highlights of the study, The State of Fish in Nutrition Systems (FINS) in the Philippines published by Oceana and MRAG Asia Pacific, in cooperation with the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Institute (DOST-FNRI).

Based on the 2018-2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), only 55.1% of households meet the recommended protein intake. The gap is even more stark among individual population groups that are in dire need of this nutritional intake. Only 17.1% among pregnant women, 19.1% among lactating mothers, and 27.2% among the elderly are meeting the recommended intake, according to the same survey in 2018-2019.

“Fish & seafoods are the main source of good quality protein of Filipinos, thus, availability & accessibility must be ensured. If the situation persists and left unattended, this may result to higher medical costs for the management of illnesses as resultant factor of nutrient inadequacy,” Dr. Imelda Angeles-Agdeppa, DOST-FNRI Director said.

Fish and seafood consumption among Filipinos has been declining over the years. The highest was in 1982 at 113 grams per person per day, and down to its lowest at 94 grams per person daily in 2018-2019.

“Let us remember that restoring the ocean could feed a billion people a healthy seafood meal a day. This rings true in our country. Our fisheries support communities and in fact, the Philippines ranks second in the world with population highly dependent on healthy and vibrant oceans for nutrition, livelihood, and coastal protection. But we need to be vigilant in ensuring that the human-induced pressures on our ocean which caused an alarming decline of fish population, such as rampant illegal fishing in our municipal waters and continuing destruction of marine habitats, are stopped,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President

Among the findings of the study was the undervaluation of coral reefs’ contribution to food and livelihood security considering that these provide 50 times more employment than commercial fishing in Exclusive Economic Zones. These fish species are also important in supporting various life stages of fishes, including galunggong.

Seafoods that are gleaned from intertidal zones, like invertebrates and shells, as a steady source of important nutrients for Filipinos, are underappreciated. Another problem revealed by the study was the unreported catch of commercial fishing that contributes to underestimation of fish and seafood supply.

Ramos added that the findings in the FINS study “should fire us up to restore the once-deep seated relationship that we had with our ocean and make it the wellspring of health, livelihoods and well-being of our people. Let’s learn from some of our local government champions who have set the standards high for nutrition, wellness and ecological integrity as priority programs for their constituents.”

The study found that fish from aquaculture like tilapia and bangus, offer lesser nutrients, such as protein and iron, per serving compared to a diverse option of pelagic species like galunggong, matambaka and tuna from wild capture fisheries. Tilapia and bangus are the commonly consumed fish by Filipinos, comprising 26% of total seafood consumption per individual.

Moreover, aquaculture employs fewer people and is more capital intensive, while wild capture fisheries, primarily contributed by marine municipal fishers, provides more livelihood and food security.

“Let us be better stewards of our ocean and enhance the well-being of the present and the future generations,” said Ramos.

This was echoed by Dr. Imelda Angeles-Agdeppa, Director of DOST-FNRI who said that “with food security as one of the new administration’s priority agenda, we hope that the direction of development in the fisheries and fishing industry will be towards achieving better nutrition for Filipinos.”

The study was conducted to determine the role of Philippine fisheries in terms of food security and livelihood at both the national and regional scale; assess future risks to food security and livelihood in the Philippines; and provide advice on policy options to strengthen the contribution of fish in nutrition systems in the face of ecosystem change.