Pic: AP.

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Mayor Ronnel Rivera said it is time to look beyond the tuna industry if the city is to move as one of Mindanao’s major economic hubs.

“The volume of tuna and other fish landings have long reached optimum production.  We will no longer be able to produce the same quantity of tuna catch we enjoyed more than a decade ago,” Rivera said in his first state of the city address Tuesday morning, August 5.

Serving his first term as city mayor, Rivera said General Santos has the potential to become the region’s agri-industrial center.

“We could become Mindanao’s agri-industrial hub given our wide avenues and highways, open and idle spaces, excellent location and available infrastructure such as our sprawling airport and seaport,” he added.

Increased frozen tuna landings

Overall fish landings at the General Santos City Fish Port complex went up by 14.5 percent in the first half of this year at “for a total volume of 104,310.96 metric tons or an increase of 13,238.69 MT from the 91,072.27 MT previous period totals.”

The city mayor however said tuna canning plants in the city have to increasingly source their raw materials from foreign vessels and tuna catches from Manila

In 2013, 43 percent (71,988.24 MT) of the 167,578.75MT total fish landings in the city were frozen tuna that came from abroad while another 8 percent came from Manila.

Frozen tunas landed in the city end up in canning factories here.

From January to June this year, total frozen tuna landings already reached 48,464.62 metric tons, representing 46 percent of the total landings according to the records of the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority.

The city began importing frozen tunas in 2007.

Ang mga dagkung (The big tuna) producers from the city have been in the continuous lookout for new fishing grounds beyond our exclusive economic zones,” as demand for canned and processed tuna continues to be robust.

Demand for Philippine canned tuna remains robust.Pic by Edwin Espejo

Livestock and agriculture

The city mayor said General Santos City could regain its previous status as Mindanao’s biggest hog and largest cattle producers.

Bag-o ta gibantog nga (Before we became known as the) Tuna Capital of the Philippines, ang atong siyudad nailhan nga dakong (our city was known as big) supplier of hogs and cattle for the Metro Manila market – some 20 percent of its requirement,” Rivera explained.

He said the city could also maximize its position as the “preferred destination and gateway of agricultural products in the region.”

South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao are among Mindanao’s largest rice and corn producers.

Sarangani and South Cotabato on the other hand are known for their vegetable and fruit production.

The bulk of the products of these provinces are transported to General Santos where they are shipped out to various destinations in the country.

The city, Rivera added, is mulling the establishment of an integrated food terminal.

“We could house a Triple A abattoir, warehouse, cold storage and chilling facilities for agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat products,” he said.

Still the tuna capital

In the end, however, Rivera said General Santos City remains the Tuna Capital of the country.

It is not true that we were already overtaken by Mindoro.  We are still the country’s Tuna Capital,” he argued.

On the contrary, he added, many yellowfin traders from around the country are bringing their catches in the city where they command better prices.

Six of the country’s 7 tuna canning factories are still operating in the city.

Tuna has become a traditional export product of the country with over US$250M in annual export receipts alone.

The city will celebrate its 46th charter anniversary on September 5 which also coincides with the annual Tuna Festival.