This study aims to draw a profile of low-cost retailing equipment and facilities for fish marketing in the large urban areas of Southeast Asia, as it examines the status, problems and needs of those in the fish retail trade, in particular the street fish vending sector.
The study made use of secondary data from four major sources, the national agencies in charge of fisheries affairs, national fish marketing agencies, local governments and the FAO statistics database. For the study to accurately reflect low-cost fish retailing equipment and facilities in large urban areas of Southeast Asia, surveys were conducted as a source of primary data. The data was related to the available equipment/facilities being used, technical characteristics, investment and operational costs, as well as street fish vending operations and critical issues; improved technologies for urban street fish retailing; training programmes for street fish vendors; national legislation; and improvement programmes related to urban street fish vending. Direct observation during field visits provided qualitative and quantitative data on matters such as: current situation of street fish vendors; the selling prices of fish at both wholesale and retail levels; physical and operational conditions prevailing in street fish markets; local costs of equipment; live and chilled fish handling and display practices, as well as sanitary conditions and design deficiencies at marketplaces.
Currently, some of the street fish vending operations in Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur exhibit specific characteristics according to the pattern of operation, the location of the stalls, the type of fish and fishery products offered, the equipment used and the working hours. In Singapore, all street fish vendors have been resettled into public markets and food centres since 1986. In general, two main patterns of operation were identified:
Street seafood/freshwater fish vendors selling from mobile facilities. These are typical motorised retail outlets specialised in the trade of fish and fishery products. In this category we can include marketing schemes such as Fish on Wheels and Pasar Tani as well as the street wholesale and retail live freshwater fish outlets. There were also ready-to-eat fish/squid balls and traditional sausage vendors peddling from place to place using wheeled pushcarts
Street fish vendors with equipment that enables them to operate a temporary street retail outlet (unmotorised facility). In this category we can include the typical informal street seafood markets. However, traditional itinerant street seafood vendors peddling from place to place and carrying two baskets on shoulder poles were not very common in urban areas
Most street seafood/freshwater fish vending operations were characterised by the use of low-cost equipment and facilities. In some large urban areas, the available low-cost fish retailing equipment and facilities showed some deficiencies, particularly regarding design, limited potable water supplies and wastewater disposal systems. Water is used extensively in fish markets, not only for fish cleaning, but also to flush offal and blood from equipment and floors, and to flume wastewater to floor drains and collection sumps. The first step for the implementation of adequate potable water supplies to individual stalls at street fish markets should be to analyse water use patterns, install water meters and regularly record water consumption. The next step should be to undertake a survey of all market area and ancillary operations to identify wasteful practices and undertake corrective actions. Street fish vendors should pay according to their water consumption and proportionally for the provision of wastewater drainage systems. In two of the three large urban areas where street fish vendors operated regularly, solid wastes collection and disposal, as well as daily cleaning schedules were provided by the municipal authorities or private management and service charges were paid by the street fish vendors on an individual basis.
Live fish trade was the usual practice in all the large urban centres investigated. Most street live fish retail vending operations can be characterised by the use of low-cost equipment, with the exception of Singapore. Live fish was usually sold at higher prices than dead fish; most consumers were prepared to pay premium prices for live fish, which is considered the best guarantee of freshness, quality, and intrinsic characteristics of its flesh (better texture and delicate flavour) in comparison with fresh/chilled seafood. Primarily, the tastes, traditions and cooking styles of the local population determine the live seafood market requirements.
The consumption of high-value live seafood is a niche market for affluent tourists, the higher income group, and businessmen, and for special celebrations/festivities and wedding parties. Gradual economic recovery in most of the large urban areas investigated is slowly bringing consumers back, which is helping the markets for high-priced produce like shrimp, prawn and crab. Shrimp and crab are well-established products in the catering business and regulars in supermarkets, either live or chilled. On the other hand, the consumption of low-priced live fish is a well-developed market for consumers from all socio-economic levels as well as through the catering sector. Domestic markets absorb most of the low-priced aquaculture products like milkfish, tilapia, carp, catfish, eel, snakeheads, oysters, mussels and edible seaweeds.
In some cases, street markets, despite their limitations, are among the most dynamic channels for seafood/freshwater fish marketing. The need for street fish market outlets has arisen as a result of the inability of the existing market infrastructure to keep pace with the rapid population growth, relatively high urban unemployment rates and the negative impacts of the economic crisis on real incomes. Based on limited data and direct observation, we recognise that convenience, strategic location and affordable prices directly influence repeat purchase of street vended fish, rather than customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The study identified some of the problems faced by street fish vendors. These were as follows: the effect of the financial crisis on business and the ability to survive, the lack of access to specialised training on fish retailing, credit, and improved infrastructure and technologies. Hoewer, most street vendors interviewed indicated that street fish vending, in comparison with other types of jobs/businesses, had several advantages, such as that it does not need as much capital or as high a skills requirement. Generally, street vendors used ice to transport and keep fish either in fish boxes, metal tubs or insulated containers. However, in most cases, only high-value fish and shrimp were displayed, well- iced to maintain adequate quality levels. It was noticed that in most street fish markets, there was a lack of adequate chilled storage facilities for common usage by vendors.
The other fish retailing system, which is identified as the modern marketing sector, comprises self-service stores and large supermarket chains. In most cases, these shops cater to the middle and higher-income population groups, which generally have a family car and the capacity to purchase and store relatively large quantities of food. This high volume of sales allows these large market outlets to compete with regard to prices and terms of sale. However, with the exception of Singapore, where there was no street fish vending in all other large urban centres investigated, street fish vending was competing well with the modern marketing sector.
In all large urban centres investigated, there was available legislation regulating the operation of street food vending in general, including fish and fishery products. In most cases, the regulatory framework included the compulsory registration and licensing of street vendors. In the case of Singapore, the main legislation dealing with hawkers was the Environmental Public Health Act, No.32. This was also the case in Bangkok, where the regulations dealing with street food vendors were under the Public Health Act, BE 2535. In Manila and Kuala Lumpur, regulations related to street food vending have been enacted in terms of a law established by a local government authority. Regulations through codes of practice are used in most cities for street ready-to-eat food vending operations. Specific codes of practice for street vending of raw fish and fishery products are still lacking.
Although the role of the informal sector, in particular street fish vending, in providing employment opportunities is recognised, in some cases, its importance in terms of supplying essential services to urban dwellers as well as generating income to the urban poor, is overlooked. Challenging much conventional wisdom about the informal sector, this study documents street fish and fishery products vending as an economic activity that produces an income ranging from minimum wage to higher than average income as compared to public or private clerks. Most successful street fish vendors work in the trade for a lifetime, but there are also a few casual street vendors selling as a supplement to other activities.
The findings support the efficacy of local governments in assisting informal micro- entrepreneurs improve their facilities, food handling practices and sanitation. In addition, adequate official attitudes and policies toward the street ready-to-eat food trade, and efforts within and outside the government to train street ready-to-eat food vendors in food handling and sanitation are positive steps in the right direction. However, similar efforts are needed in relation to street fish vendors, particularly regarding assistance to improve their facilities, fish handling practices and provision of credit.
Based on the findings of the study, recommendations and suggestions to promote the activities of street fish vending and improve fish retail marketing include the following strategies aimed at improving the technology and infrastructure:
Provide more focused research on the design of improved low-cost fish retailing equipment and facilities aimed at obtaining the most profitable output, through a better selection of alternative materials suitable for fish vending operations. Therefore, it is important to develop adequate low-cost designs, which should include improved technological features in relation to clean water supply, and collection and disposal of solid and liquid wastes
Formulate and implement adequate training programmes for street fish and fishery product vendors regarding improved facilities and equipment as well as fish handling practices. It is of utmost importance that local governments organise suitable information campaigns concerning the improved facilities and equipment and stimulate the effective participation of the private sector in the provision of low-cost prototypes to the street fish vendors
Promote agreements between street fish vendors organisations, local governments, fisheries and health government agencies, NGOs and international technical co-operation organisations for the technical evaluation and dissemination of information regarding improved low-cost prototypes. The main objectives should be focused on the demonstration of the technological advantages as well as the improved sanitary operations of the low-cost prototypes both for the vendor and the consumer
As the legal status of some street fish vendors remains informal, registration and licensing procedures should be simple and straightforward. In return for the license and fees paid, each street fish vendor should be entitled to access to water taps, regular wastes collection and disposal as well as cleaning services. Stall space should be allocated based on agreements with street vendors organisations, which should be responsible for the equal distribution of stall space among associates and for monitoring the vending operations
Formulate adequate small-scale credit programmes for street fish vendors aimed at the introduction of improved low-cost facilities and equipment. These programmes should be designed with the necessary promotion, evaluation, follow up and credit recovery components. In addition, suitable training programmes for personnel from lending institutions should be implemented in order to ensure an adequate administrative and operational framework to carry out credit operations for street fish vendors
Organising street fish vendors will strengthen their group activities, allow better communication and strengthen their bargaining position with the government. Groups of street fish vendors could facilitate the provision of small-scale credit through lending institutions for improved facilities and equipment. The cost of purchasing fish supplies and ice could also be reduced through group activities
Encourage national fisheries agencies to develop profiles of successful street fish vendors, including reference to low-cost fish retailing equipment and facilities, to serve as role models
Strengthen street fish vendors organisations/groups to help catalyse the dissemination of information on a regular basis in the following areas:
- Government rules, regulations, taxation
- Models of improved low-cost fish retailing equipment and facilities, including results of demonstrations, cost estimates and sources of financing
- Specialised fisheries/fish marketing training programmes offered in the city
- Updates of fisheries business trends including fish market information services
- Specialised fisheries/fish marketing fairs, exhibits and others
Taking into consideration womens active role in street fish marketing, particularly in Metro Manila and Bangkok, it will be desirable to promote womens participation in training activities in the fields of small business management, fish handling and marketing
It is evident from this study that the amount of research information about low-cost fish retailing equipment and facilities in large urban areas of Southeast Asia, does not yet match the level of interest and need. Therefore, more information is needed about street fish vending operations and their businesses, their number and level of economic contribution, growth trends, the issues and challenges they are facing, and access to improved infrastructure and technologies. Deficiencies in information constitute a major impediment in the planning of improvement programmes for street fish vending. Efforts to reduce these information gaps will be useful in stimulating governments to move toward more effective management of street fish vending, both by indicating the significance of the benefits and the ways in which the benefits can be achieved. Such data should come both from official government surveys, and from non-governmental organisations such as associations and universities. International agencies could remedy these deficiencies by supporting and possibly conducting research, provide expertise for the design and implementation of training programmes, as well as asist in specific technical areas.