Fishermen in Greater Tainan recently expressed their hope that the government would help increase the marketing of Taiwanese milkfish in China as they seek to make inroads in the Chinese market.
To facilitate the export of milkfish to China, they were included in the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement’s (ECFA) “early harvest” list, which provides a preferential tariffs.
In a deal brokered by Greater Tainan’s Cross-strait Economics, Trade and Cultural Development Association, China’s Shanghai Fisheries General Corp in March agreed to buy milkfish from Syuejia District (學甲) fishermen.
Under the contract, each of the 100 fishermen will provide 18,000kg of milkfish at a guarantee purchase price of NT$27 a kilogram, equating to 1,800 tonnes of milkfish sold to the Chinese market by the end of the year.
Association president Wang Wen-tsung (王文宗) said the average production cost for milkfish is about NT$21 a kilogram, although the transaction price by milkfish ponds is usually between NT$18 and NT$24.
“Winning a contract that guarantees a purchase price is the best way to protect fishermen’s livelihood,” he said.
Several fishermen attended a ceremony to mark the first shipment of 24 tonnes of milkfish to China on Aug. 25.
A fisherman surnamed Hsieh (謝) said it was the first time in more than 30 years that his milkfish farm had the opportunity to be part of a large-scale aquaculture contract.
“I don’t have to worry about getting a good price after harvest,” Hsieh said, adding that he can now focus on producing high-quality milkfish.
Wang said the milkfish products listed on the ECFA’s “early harvest” list are unprocessed whole fish and frozen fillets, adding that once tariffs are reduced to zero, Taiwanese milkfish will be even more competitive in the Chinese market.
However, it remains to be seen whether Chinese consumers will like the milkfish, Wang said, adding that market demand would be key to whether Greater Tainan fishermen have their contract renewed next year.
Wang Chang-hao (王昌澔), president of the municipality’s Aquaculture Development Association, said about 20 percent of the milkfish cultivated in Greater Tainan are exported to the US, the Middle East and Europe.
“If we can pry open the Chinese market and ink another contract, then supply pressures during peak season will ease,” he said.
Taiwan’s advantage lies in the high quality and safety of it aquaculture, Wang Chang-hao said, and if the nation manages to develop a group of loyal customers, the future for the industry would be bright.
“However, since most Chinese people are not familiar with milkfish, the fishermen need more government assistance to promote their product ... There should be lots of milkfish tasting events to woo consumers. We should even get a Chinese celebrity to promote milkfish,” he said.
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