More fish imports from Chuuk on Guam’s SNAP days

By Gina T. Reilly

Pacific Island Times

   A research that looked at 12 years of commercial reef-fish trade data between Chuuk and Guam revealed a relation between increased exportation of fish products to government Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) disbursement trends on Guam.

  The SNAP disbursement factor is just one findings in a University of Guam Marine Laboratory research called, “Disentangling Economic, Social, and Environmental Drivers of Coral-Reef Fish Trade in Micronesia” by Javier Cuetos-Bueno and Peter Houk.

   The study covered commercial fishing trends from 2003 to 2014.  As a federal program, SNAP provides nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families. Using their monthly SNAP allowance, those who are eligible can obtain food items such as meat, fish, and vegetables from retailers. Current data indicate nearly one third of Guam residents participate in the program.

   According to the study, “SNAP recipients are believed to account for an important proportion of reef-fish demand in Guam, but no data are available to quantify their contribution.” However, the study noted a relationship between commercial fish exports from Chuuk and SNAP disbursement patterns. When reef-fish exports from Chuuk “increased steadily between 2003 and 2010 due to consumer demand on Guam, it was at a time when SNAP disbursements also doubled.

  After this period, the study said “a decoupling of SNAP issuance and annual exports followed the 2010 peak.” Between 2010 and 2014, importation decreased by an average of 25 metric tons per year, at an overall decrease of around 48 percent.  “This decline was driven by reduced profitability, as large increases in fish acquisition and airfreight costs reduced profits beyond sustainable thresholds,” according to the study.

    But looking at daily export trends, SNAP disbursement days also impact the amount of reef-fish exported to Guam. The study said “proximity to SNAP-days became the dominant predictor of modern daily exports, as larger proportions of Chuuk fish have increasingly been exported to Guam around these high-demand days.”

     “Daily exports were 30 percent and 18 percent higher than the overall monthly mean during the SNAP allowance days, and the days before-after respectively, with less variation on other days,” the study said.

   During the research period, export rates of reef-fish from Chuuk averaged at 148 MT per year, ranging from a minimum export rate of 108 MT in 2014, to a maximum of 206 MT in 2010. The fish imports had an average gross retail value of $1.5 million. According to the study, Chuuk and the other island had been a source of reef fish for Guam since local production cannot fulfil growing consumer demand. For the past decades, Chuuk has transported fish to Guam to support this need.

   However, with less fish importation from Chuuk, Guam’s local fish markets are now moving outside the Micronesian region to source out frozen reef-fish products. The study noted that evidence of similar expansions is “becoming increasingly noticeable across the tropics, highlighting growing concerns for small-scale fisheries in remote locales.”

   The research captured both inter-annual and intra-annual trends on reef-fish trade between the two locales by examining different economic, social, and environmental drivers. From a global perspective, the study said that looking at these drivers would help understand and manage coastal fishery resources in the area.

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