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Catching Multi-Million-Dollar Tuna Auction Markets

Davao City: Unload the chilled tuna, pack in carton boxes, put in refrigerated container vans, whisk to the international airport and from there to Manila, then fly them to Tokyo in time for the multimillion-dollar auction markets in Japan early the next morning.
That is what beckons foreign long-line tuna boats: quick access to the Davao Fish Port Complex (DFPC) in this city’s Toril District.
”We are Mindanao’s most modern commercial fishery post-harvest infrastructures,” says Manager Mario Malinao of the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority.
The fish port is attractive to long-line tuna vessels because of its proximity to tuna fishing grounds beyond the Davao Gulf and the number of outgoing flights fromthe Davao International Airport just 25 kilometers away.
The ideal travel time for sashimi grade tuna is 20 hours maximum, whether it’s for the tuna auction market in Japan, Canada, or the United States.
The sashimi-grade tuna landed at the DFPC is for transshipment, half of that to Japan and half to North America. Freshly caught tuna is chilled at sea (blast-freezing destroys the sashimi grade) then landed at the DFPC where they are classified for sashimi and non-sashimi grades, packed then air-freighted to foreign markets.
The remaining portions of non-sashimi is bought by local processors for export and for local buyers such as hotels and restaurants. They are frozen and vacuum-packed as cubed, steaked, loin and other choice cuts.
As raw materials for canneries, these non-sashimi products complement the tuna industry at General Santos City in Cotabato, the country's biggest source of tuna, followed by Davao.
”The fish port is more than ever attractive because there are alternative markets with better prices, such as the US and Canada; the price in Japan luctuates,” Malinao points out. “Davao is now a major player in the Asia-Pacific tuna industry because of the transshipment activities taking place here.”
Foreign long-line vessels from Taiwan, Japan and a few from Indonesia find the DFPC the nearest transshipment point when they have a sizeable cargo of fresh-chilled, sashimi-grade tuna to unload.
The region’s transshipment ports are in Guam, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Singapore, Bitung (Indonesia), Singapore and Phuket (Thailand).
Tuna vessels need sufficient flight frequencies to Japan and other markets. There’s almost none in Palau and Jakarta is too far from Indonesian tuna ports.
The only competitions are Guam and Papua New Guinea which foreign vessels favor from February to June. The rest of the year, they unload in Davao which has currently seven daily Philippine Airlines flights and five Cebu Pacific flights to Manila-and from there to foreign markets.
Vessels also need fishing supplies like bait. Davao is the only one with live bangus (milkfish) baits that should be between 5 inches and 6 inches long to attract tuna.
Frozen round scad (galunggong) is also used. Other countries in the Asia, Pacific and Indian oceans are aggressively attracting foreign fishing vessels to transship through their ports. The Port Authority of Guam has developed a big harbor where foreign fishing vessels can dock to transship sashimi-grade tuna.
”We are exerting all efforts to attract more long-line vessels from South Korea and Vietnam to make Davao a transshipment point. Additional vessels will mean a better outlook for us,” Malinao says.